US Olympic Team Doc: Challenges and Advice for Athletes

Carol Peckham; Gloria M. Beim, MD

Disclosures

February 03, 2014

In This Article

Injuries and Psychological Issues

Medscape: Injuries , of course, are a concern. How can you reduce the rate of head injuries?

Dr. Beim: Certainly with helmets, obviously. Another way to help reduce the risk for serious head injury is to follow the rules, which just makes sense. Fortunately, the organizing committee in Sochi is going to have venues that are state-of-the-art and are going to be as safe as possible.

Of course, some sports are higher-risk than others and there is no way to eliminate the risk for head injury. Some ski racers and freestyle skiers will use spinal protectors in their suits, which can help reduce back injury. And many athletes use mouth guards, which is really smart. If you take a good hit on the snow or ice, it would be sad to lose your teeth, so I think mouth guards are really important.

Medscape: I've read that female winter sports athletes are more prone to injuries than men are. Can you address this or any other issues related to injuries in female athletes?

Dr. Beim: I don't have the statistics in front of me, but in the Olympic arena, all athletes are so highly trained that I would guess that the male-to-female ratio of injuries is probably closer than in the non-Olympic and nonprofessional population. This is because Olympic athletes train and they train the right way. They have good coaching and good training techniques.

On the other hand, some female and male weekend athletes may go skiing after not having done anything all year. They may have weak hips. They may have tight hamstrings and therefore may have patellofemoral imbalance. They may have a mismatch of their hamstring and quad strength. They just might pop their anterior cruciate ligament or medial collateral ligaments, and that's easier for women to do just because of their anatomy. That has been proven again and again. Noncontact injuries are more common in females than males. However, as you get into the more elite-athlete population, I think the difference between men and women probably goes down.

Medscape: Are there any vulnerabilities that might be specific to female athletes?

Dr. Beim: In my book,[1] I always harp on the muscular imbalance in the lower extremities, which I see more in women than men (although I do see it in men), and it definitely increases the risk for overuse and traumatic injuries in the knee. No question. Women and some men tell me that their knee has been bothering them and that they have some patellar tendinopathy. But they also have very weak hips.

Many people do not think about working their hips. Many studies[3,4,5] have proved that weak hips can lead to knee overuse injuries, and in my opinion that can also increase the risk for traumatic injury, particularly in skiing or basketball and other court sports.

So I am always harping on my patients to strengthen their hips. Hip abductors and adductor exercises are so important, but many people do not do them.

Medscape: What about psychological issues among athletes? Does your team address these?

Dr. Beim: Oh, you bet. We have excellent, very experienced sports psychologists that travel with Team USA. They are trained to deal specifically with athletes and have had years of experience with the US Olympic Committee.

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