Thursday, August 2, 2012

Treating common ailments of Olympic athletes

- Kenny Lin, MD

As I write, competitors at Summer Olympic Games in London are pushing their bodies to their physical and mental limits, leading to plenty of work for family physicians and other sports medicine clinicians. Elite endurance cyclists and long-distance runners encounter a host of common problems, ranging from overuse injuries to heat-related illnesses. Runners and gymnasts also are at increased risk for lower extremity stress fractures. Tennis players traditionally suffer from lateral epicondylitis, while basketball and soccer players are vulnerable to ankle sprains and anterior cruciate ligament injuries when they step on to the court or field of play. Beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh recently underwent multiple surgeries for acute shoulder injuries suffered during championship-level competitions. Swimmer Jessica Hardy, competing in several events at the current Games, also qualified for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing but withdrew and served a one-year ban from the sport after testing positive for a banned sports supplement.

With such an extensive variety of ailments that might surface during the Summer Games, U.S. team physicians and medical personnel can at least breathe a sigh of relief that the athletes' medical records are, for the first time, being stored digitally. As Alice Park recently wrote in Time magazine:

While fans can follow their favorite Olympian via Twitter and texts, and get real-time updates on their activities, until this Games, medical records were handled in a conspicuously old-school way — shipped, in dozens of palettes, to the Games. For Beijing, the files literally took a slow boat to China, says Dr. Bill Moreau, managing director of sports medicine at the USOC. “Heaven forbid that an athlete would actually need something from their record while it’s being shipped, or on the ocean, or stuck in a harbor,” he says. With the electronic records, anyone caring for an Olympic athlete, from a trainer to a physical therapist to a physician treating an emergency injury, can get a quick look at the athlete’s medical history at a glance, and update it with the latest developments.

That's medical progress that all of us watching from home can cheer about!