Monday, June 30, 2008

Issues affecting the athletes

As a clinician, we're consulted for a wide variety of problems. You're almost doing everything but orthopedics. They'll come to you with everything - to the athletes you're just "Doc".

Among swimmers, as well as other athletes, injuries that occur at major sports events are most often related to over-use such as rib stress fractures, tendonitis, impingement syndrome in the shoulder, and some low back pain. We work closely with others on the medical team to treat and prevent a vast assortment of physical problems.

A distinctive quality of sports medicine at competitive events is that taking a few days off to rest and recover is not really an option. We are challenged to use all our skills to address pain and injury in the moment. About half of the swimming injuries are musculoskeletal -- mostly shoulder and knee pain. But, occasionally we see injuries that are more severe.

Part of our role is to treat them and rehabilitate them to get them back as fast as possible, while at the same time truly knowing when someone should be disqualified or when they shouldn't compete.

It's not obvious to outside observers that making time adjustments necessary to ensure live television coverage in the United States presents swimmers with one of their biggest challenges. Swimmers are retraining themselves to swim earlier in the morning since they will be waking up very early to warm-up, eat, and then prepare to compete in the medal finals in the morning, rather than having the finals in the evening as has always been the tradition in the past. Since fractions of seconds count, every nuance of an athlete's state of health can make a difference, and we are especially attuned to addressing any sign of fatigue or strain linked to this change of routine to avoid injury and maximize performance.

We also deal with dehydration and nutritional issues and supervise athletes during random and scheduled drug testing in compliance with Doping Control rules.

Ideally, there will be no injuries at the Olympics. But, given that world-class athletes are pushing their bodies to achieve more than they - or anyone else - has achieved, we are assembled and ready to provide treatment if any physical injury occurs.

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