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Actors: "don't break a leg" - say chartered physiotherapists

5 July 2005 - 9:10am

More than three quarters of UK actors suffer physical discomfort or musculo-skeletal injury as a result of their profession, according to a new survey carried out by the CSP.

More than three quarters (78%) of UK actors suffer physical discomfort or musculo-skeletal injury as a result of their profession, according to a new survey carried out by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). Four in five (84%) of these actors claim working in the theatre is to blame.

The CSP has worked with actors' union Equity to survey 100 actors, from both television and the theatre. Over half of the respondents say the physical nature of theatre brings on a host of physical problems that affect the way they work. These range from serious back, neck and shoulder pain, joint pulls and sprains, bruising, torn ligaments, Achilles tendon, acute tendonitis and skin abrasions.

Actors blame the repetition of physically risky movements, such as fight, fall, flight and climbing sequences. According to the respondents, general repeated physical work over a long period of time increases the risk of physical injury and/or discomfort. However, 51% of the respondents said they would have access to treatment for physical injury or discomfort paid for by production companies but 40% of respondents could only access treatment paid for privately. 93% of respondents believe actors should be referred to physiotherapists in the event physical injury or discomfort occurs.

The CSP survey shows theatre tends to be more physical and repetitive on a daily basis than television work. Long-running productions require re-creating the same movements night after night. The repetition of potentially injurious and uncomfortable physical activity over time means repetitive strain injury (RSI) and wear and tear is becoming more common among actors. Some actors in small-scale theatre companies are even being asked to put up sets and carry heavy loads without correct posture or warm-up.

Chartered physiotherapist Andrea Blackshaw, who runs the Physiotherapy, Sports & Dance Injury Clinic in North London and who recently treated Ruby Wax on Celebrity Fame Academy and has worked with many other television and theatre actors said: 'The results of the CSP's survey are disappointing but not surprising, matching my own experience of treating actors and dancers in the clinic. I often find actors are asked to undertake activities that are clearly potentially injurious. The survey highlights the importance for injury prevention to be made a major focus by all parties involved from production companies and set designers to actors.'

CSP's survey revealed set production and design to be another cause of physical injury or discomfort. Many theatre actors tended to work on solid stages that do not give, thereby jolting their joints when jumping, dancing or running on stage. Working on raked stages (inclined stage floor) also appeared to have an impact causing much discomfort on their backs and joints. Costume and footwear added to this problem, as respondents stated many designs are not created with practicality in mind, placing restrictions and strain on the actors' bodies and on their ability to perform effectively. Bad footwear combined with working on poor, unsprung flooring will create a painful combination.

Andrea said: 'Chartered physiotherapists should be allowed to play an important part in theatre productions as consultants in view of the difficult working conditions. Their professional expertise could be very useful in anticipating where the source of injuries may lie.'

Another measure Andrea suggests for injury prevention is to ensure theatre companies incorporate group warm-up sessions to the daily routine.

'As demands to be more physically active are being made of actors they must take steps to ensure they are well prepared by taking regular exercise for their personal fitness and strength. Actors must also try and overlook any pressures put on them by production companies and develop the confidence in taking responsibility for their own bodies by requesting a physical movement be modified or even eliminated if they can see that it will be potentially injurious to themselves.

'Regular work with a chartered physiotherapist for the purpose of "healthy body maintenance" needs to become routine for actors as much as it is for sports people rather than leaving it until injuries occur. We service our cars regularly ñ why not our bodies!'

One of the main concerns to come out from the CSP's survey is actors showing unwillingness to ask production companies for changes to be made to choreography, for fear of being perceived as difficult thereby affecting future job opportunities. But actors need to be the collective driving force to bring about necessary change.

Christine Payne, Equity assistant general secretary theatre and variety said: 'The CSP's findings are not surprising. Acting on stage can be very physically demanding. Equity has been working with employers both on proper warm-up and warm-down techniques and on good practice when working on raked stages. Equity is very much in favour of actors having access to physiotherapy so that problems can be addressed before they become chronic.'

Actors wishing to work with a chartered physiotherapist, or access treatment for any physical problems they are experiencing and for which physiotherapy may help, should get in touch with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy or visit www.physio2u.org.uk for assistance in locating a chartered physiotherapist in their local area.

Ends

Notes to editors

Andrea Blackshaw is happy to be interviewed. For more information or to discuss the survey results, please call Prabh Salaman at the CSP press office on 020 7306 6163 or on 07870 799 353 (mobile).

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the professional, educational and trade union body for the country's 40,000 chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and assistants. Physiotherapy is Britain's fourth largest health profession and continues to grow.

A full archive of earlier CSP press releases can be found by visiting www.csp.org.uk/mediagovernment/media/mediareleases.cfm

Summary of Results from the CSP's Survey of Actors

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has carried out a survey on UK actors working in the theatre and television medium to discover the impact their profession has on their physical health. A summary of results can be found below:

Medium in which actor surveyed sustained physical injury or discomfort:

? 78% of actors surveyed experienced physical injury/discomfort ñ  
? 84% of which occurred in the theatre
? 11% of which occurred in television
? 5% of which occurred on a film set

Medium in which physical injury or discomfort is likely to occur & causes:

Based on actors' opinion
? 84% of respondents stated physical injury/discomfort was most likely to occur while working in theatre 

The Cause:
? 51% claimed repetition & the physical nature of acting in theatre was the main cause of physical injury/discomfort
? 14% claimed poor adherence to health & safety regulations by production companies resulted in physical injury/discomfort
? 12% claimed solid/raked stages (inclined floor) were responsible for injury
? 12% blamed costume and shoes as the reason for discomfort/injury

Access to treatment for physical injury or discomfort:

? 42% of respondents would access treatment for physical injury/discomfort paid for by a theatre production company
? 40% of respondents would access treatment for physical injury/discomfort paid for privately
? 9% of respondents would access treatment for physical injury/discomfort paid for by a television production company

Reimbursement of private health costs if spent by an actor for treatment:

? 55% of respondents received NO financial reimbursement of treatment costs by the production company when paid for privately
? 20% of respondents received financial reimbursement of treatment costs by the production company when paid privately

Insurance of actors for physical injury or discomfort by production companies:

? 48% of respondents were insured for physical injury or discomfort by their production companies
? 32% of respondents did not know if production companies would insure the actor for physical injury or discomfort
? 11% of respondents were not insured for physical injury or discomfort by their production companies
? 9% of respondents were dissatisfied with the insurance for physical injury or discomfort they received from production companies.

These statistics show less than half of the respondents said television and theatre productions companies would insure actors in the event of injury, where healthcare treatment costs would be covered. However, following analysis of the results, it transpired this protection would often cease after the actors stopped working for the production company. If further rehabilitative treatment was required after an actor left a particular production, s/he would not be covered.

The survey found protection of actors by production companies, in the event physical injury or discomfort occurred, was patchy ñ in some cases there was no protection at all.

Presence of healthcare professionals at productions:

The presence of healthcare professionals on staff at various productions was inconsistent.

? 93% of respondents believed actors should be referred to physiotherapists in the event of physical injury or discomfort 
? Over half (56%) of respondents felt physiotherapists should be on staff at productions.

Health & Safety:

Detailed analysis of the respondents' responses to the survey has discovered serious implications relating to company health and safety regulations, especially among touring productions or fringe theatre.

? One-seventh (14%) of respondents believed safety measures backstage presented a real hazard to their health, often as a result of tight budgets where not enough money is allocated to ensure activities and sets are safely designed.

Health protection expected by actors:

? 33% of respondents want access to a healthcare team comprising of physiotherapists, for example, as standard provision and paid for by production companies
? 25% of respondents want full medical insurance for actors at their place of work paid for by production companies

Notes:

For more information or to discuss the survey results, please call Prabh Salaman at the CSP press office on 020 7306 6163 or on 07870 799 353 (mobile).

 

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