The year was 1997 and India was playing their archrivals, Pakistan, in Chepauk stadium. And when Rahul Dravid had an issue with his hamstring, young physiotherapist M Hamsraj treated his first on-field celebrity player. And Dravid went on to score a century in that Pepsi Independence Cup match. The rest, as they say, is history.
Hamsraj, who has been practicing for 30 years, is a man of many firsts, both before Dravid and after. For starters, he graduated from Madras Christian College among the first batch of physiotherapists in 1986. His inspiration to become a sports physio, he says, came from Chamundeshwari C, a powerlifter (weightlifting). “She came to me with a back problem. Other therapists had told her to stop lifting. I put her on a six-month training programme and later, she went on to break records,” beams Hamsraj.
He recalls an incident and shows us a photograph where after a successful South Asian Federation series in 1992-93, when he went to receive her at the railway station, she put all her medals on him. “I could see the results of the work we did together,” he says. Chamundeswari was also ranked first in the Asian Powerlifting Championships in 1995.
Following his successful powerlifting stint, he got into cricket by first treating a local player, Suresh, from State Bank of India (“He was my pullayar suzhi in cricket” ). Through word of mouth, he began treating several other players and slowly got into the arena of international matches. He has even treated Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Lakshman. Call it quirky coincidence, but “Sachin has gone on to score a century whenever he was treated by me,” he claims.
Two other illustrious personalities he has treated are Viswanathan Anand and A R Rahman. “They have consulted me on general fitness and pain issues,” he says. Another memorable highlight in his career was a fitness camp for the Indian women’s team in 2002. “They shifted their 21-day camp from Pune to Chennai and we had a team of physios, dieticians, psychologists and others to train them. It was a one-of-a-kind camp that raised our team’s fitness by leaps and bounds,” he recalls. Hamsraj is possibly the only certified physio to have handled both men’s and women’s cricket teams.
Another first — in 2005, he was a physio at the Chennai camp during Dhoni’s first visit here in 2005. “The thing about sports physio is that if a player has an issue, within minutes we treat them and have them playing on the field. This is why I feel all physiotherapists should get into sports physio at least for a while — the attitude of treatment will change, because we are looking at speed and effectiveness,” Hamsraj points out.
“Now, it’s about 50% sport and 50% general treatment. I use the unique manual techniques to give immediate relief. The first time I touch the patient, I feel it should have brought down the pain by at least 30%,” he says. “Posture, alignment and a regular set of exercises based on one’s profession are vital to avoid back and neck pain that plagues several white-collar professionals today.”
He has also trained over 300-400 physios country-wide — in fact, physios from three or four of the IPL teams had once trained under him, in addition to the Ranji Tamil Nadu team physio. “There are over a lakh physios in India. And to have so many physios at such a level with their professional roots in Chennai...that’s something!” observes one of the first Doctorates from the Tamil Nadu Physical Education and Sports University.
Stepping out of Hamsraj’s consulation room, one sees his awards and trophies stash, among them a lifetime achievement award from the Indian Association of Physiotherapists. At 53, he’s not old enough for it but he certainly has achieved a lifetime’s worth!