Whether you’re a child who’s twisted your ankle playing rep soccer on the weekend, or one of the Vancouver Whitecaps, everyone gets the same standard of care at Fortius Sport & Health. This 65 million dollar community asset in Burnaby, British Columbia brings together everything about sport, health, and medicine in an integrated way. Athletes from across the country and overseas come to the Fortius Centre to be treated by different health practitioners, including sport physicians, physiotherapists, and strength and conditioning coaches, who are all working together to get to the root of injuries.
Andy Price, executive director of the Fortius Foundation, is excited about everything to do with Fortius Sport & Health. But he’s particularly thrilled with a new children’s program called Back in the Game, an idea that was born after the Fortius practitioners all agreed they wanted to help more kids.
“Every year in Canada one in ten kids gets injured to a serious enough level that it impacts their activity levels,” Price told me. “If we’re constantly dealing with kids getting injured, getting behind, getting frustrated, how do we get them back into sport? If we want to be building an active generation we need to ensure that they enjoy sport and make it part of their lives but also that they’re not in pain when they do it; that they’re taught all the right techniques and that they have physical literacy to continue in sport.”
Back in the Game is a back pain program for 12- to 18-year-olds and is mainly focused on youth with chronic back pain. It’s a program for small groups that makes safety its top priority and has the additional benefits of cost effectiveness, peer support, interaction, and fun. Price explained that “about one in eight kids participating in sport are dealing with ongoing back pain, which translates into many thousands of kids who have that issue in Canada. What we wanted to do was to bring an integrated concept of therapy, yoga, Pilates, and strength-training and provide all this in a group environment that is fun, social, and nurturing.”
The concept works because they’ve make it fun and affordable, two things that physiotherapy is often not. Kids get together as a group, play fun activities and physical literacy-based games, and then get the individualized attention and exercises they need from the physiotherapists and strength and conditioning coaches so that every child’s unique needs are addressed. Price told me that this group approach gets kids sticking with their treatment for longer.
“What we see is kids dropping out of rehabilitation too early because they just want to get back to their sport. Then they often get reinjured and that becomes an ongoing cycle. Back in the Game provides a unique environment to build the strength and skills that will allow them to get back to their sport that they love so much. In the group environment, the kids learn from each other and share the journey to overcome their challenges. Sports injuries in youth are on the rise in both incidence and severity. When rehabbing youth, there are a few things to consider: establishing proper movement foundations as they are growing and becoming more competitive in their sports, creating safe and fun therapeutic environments to increase compliance and the effectiveness of therapy, and making it cost effective for families so that kids heal properly from their injuries, allowing them to return successfully to their sport, and more importantly, not develop a reoccurring lifetime of chronic back pain.”
In a 2015 pilot project, the group environment of Back in the Game was able to significantly reduce the cost of treatment compared to one-to-one sessions with a physiotherapist. For the ongoing program, the Fortius Foundation is subsidizing this program even further. According to Price, “we recognize that what we were charging was much better but still not affordable for all families especially when the program is eight weeks at two sessions a week. For most people in Canada that’s becoming a big expense. This subsidized, group environment offers better outcomes at rates that all families can afford.”
For the current session that began on April 5th, they’ve brought the cost down to just $20/session thanks to the Fortius Foundation and donations. Families still pay a small fee so kids (and parents) will still feel invested in their recovery, but this price point should make the program accessible to a lot more families.
And they’ve found that by focusing on physical literacy and by addressing core issues, kids are emerging even stronger than they were before they got injured.
Fortius Sport & Health is currently working on their next program, a collaboration with the Steve Nash Foundation called REACH for 8- to 12-year-olds. It will be focused on helping kids build a healthy body through physical literacy, mental health, nutrition, healthy sleep, and more.