Osteopath and Australian Olympic team consultant Aaron Anderson discusses DB’s alpha types, Rio and holistic medicine with Elizabeth Kerr.
There are oodles of doctors in Hong Kong, and a good number in Discovery Bay – a specialist for every creaky back and knee, every tense shoulder, forehead wrinkle and throat tickle imaginable. But how many of them can say they’ve treated elite international athletes that won silver medals as recently as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio? Integrated Medicine Institute (IMI) osteopath Dr Aaron Anderson can.
“I’m not the team doctor. The French word is soigneur, which means helper,” Aaron, a Melbourne native, is quick to point out of his work with Cycling Australia. That may be the case, but Aaron was indeed among the crew working with the Men’s Track Endurance (Men’s Teams Pursuit) Olympians, who won the Gold medal last August. And Aaron is pretty chuffed about it on a realistic level: “I’m happy to be involved but at the end of the day they’re the guys on the track.”
Specialist in his field
It’s throwing it down the morning Aaron waltzes into a Central coffee shop for our chat. He’s remarkably dry, though the soft-spoken Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology graduate and double degree holder (in sports science and osteopathy) does hint that it’s quieter away from the window. You want to do as he says: he vaguely recalls Outlander’s Tobias Menzies’ long lost cousin – and that guy is scary.
But Aaron is really not. Clearly grounded, he goes from reticent and cautious to relaxed and familiar in minutes, and has an understated sense of how notable his Cycling Australia work is, particularly in a city defined by its border-hopping professionals. “I guess I had the right skill set that they needed for me to go away on these Olympic camps,” he says. See? Understatement.
Interestingly, it’s Aaron’s wife Shan’s skill set that sees him living in Discovery Bay. He followed her speech pathologist career to Discovery College four years ago, with their (now) eight- and 11-year-old daughters, Amber and Tara, in tow. DB has proven to be a natural fit, and though they have no solid long-term plans, the immediate future is set. The one thing Aaron laments is the lack of minor jobs around the resort that teach kids responsibility. “Our kids can’t mow someone’s lawn or babysit or wash cars,” he says. “How do you employ someone when they’ve never had a job and they’re 25?”
As a licensed osteopath, Aaron planned on working here, but he was initially apprehensive about his prospects. “Osteopathy is mainstream in Australia, but only about 20 osteopaths currently work in Hong Kong,” he reveals. “Moving here, I was literally door-knocking to find a space to base myself but then I got lucky as IMI opened in DB just a few months later. It’s been such a good fit as it’s a multi-disciplinary practice – Asia’s largest natural therapy clinic – with many different specialists.”
Of his work at IMI, Aaron is quick to point out that osteopathy shouldn’t be confused with homeopathy or other alternative medicines. “People lump them into one big ball,” he begins, “but I don’t prescribe medication. So they’re very different. Osteopathy is an alignment-based medicine. It’s a musculoskeletal medicine, looking at the way the body moves, and it’s a manual medicine, so we use our hands. What an osteopath does is treat the cause, not the symptom. A sore knee can be the result of a hip injury; a painful lower back can be the result of collapsed feet.”
Sounds like a perfect fit for sedentary, carpal-tunnel-heavy, not-enoughsleep Hong Kong, but awareness of the practice is low. “The issue with osteopathy in Hong Kong is that it’s so niche,” Aaron says. “It’s just not on people’s radar and if you don’t know what it is, you won’t try it. Hongkongers are more likely to go to a physiotherapist.”
Admittedly, Aaron’s primary physician status did exempt him from extra certification, so there are advantages to Hong Kong’s notorious efficiency. Aaron calls it more disappointing because the potential is right there on the surface. “I think one of the problems is that Hong Kong is so transient you get good people coming here but not staying long enough to make a change,” he says. “They don’t stay for 40 years. They move on and you’re constantly starting again.”
Regardless of how it happened, DB now has its own therapist whose ‘clients’ include Olympic medalwinning athletes. In the 12 months leading up to Rio 2016, Aaron was busy at Olympic selection camps treating cyclists, making sure he was at crashes, and preparing them for the Games. “If you like sports it’s one thing to watch, but it’s better to be involved,” he says. “So, yeah, you are a part of that and you’ve always got those memories.”
Cool as the whole experience was, Aaron didn’t do it for the glamour. “There’s no money in elite sport,” he scoffs. “You don’t go into it for cash; you go into it for experience. It’s certainly not a way to generate wealth.”
It’s no shock white-collar Hong Kong has a wealth of lower back and neck issues, but working at IMI (in both DB and Central) Aaron gets to treat everything from digestive and respiratory problems to migraines and insomnia. He’s not looking for ways to connect with Hong Kong’s uberelite athletes, sure that they have their own go-to therapists, but he enjoys treating the city’s type-A professionals, who play (sport) as hard as they work. “Make that triple-A,” he cracks of DB clients who frequently participate in Iron Man races, see him and then immediately hop on a bone-crushing long-haul flight for business.
Gratified by the interest DBers have shown in osteopathy, Aaron’s one complaint is that too many patients see him after suffering for many years. “Patients come in and say they saw their doctor, surgeon, a physiotherapist, a Pilates instructor and now they’re seeing me. By then I really have my work cut out for me – the injury has become ingrained.”
But Aaron is pleased at what he sees as a swing towards permanent solutions rather than surface fixes for mechanical problems, a fairly new idea to Hong Kong. “You go to a doctor here and you get a show bag of medicines,” he finishes. “I’m certainly not anti-medicine, but are you treating the symptom or are you treating the cause? The solution might be getting to bed earlier and dropping the iPad.” Tell that to a triple-A type.