US Olympic Team Doc: Challenges and Advice for Athletes

Carol Peckham; Gloria M. Beim, MD

Disclosures

February 03, 2014

In This Article

Lessons on Training and Competition

Medscape: What can regular, non-Olympic athletic people or weekend warriors learn from Olympic athletes as far as training and competition?

Dr. Beim: What they should know is that Olympic athletes are training all the time. They are training in the on-season and the off-season, whereas weekend warriors often don't really train at all. They may work all week and then play tennis on the weekend, or go skiing twice a year, or play basketball once a month with their buddies. They may not stretch properly. They may not strengthen properly. They don't always have the greatest mechanics on the court or on the ski slopes, because they often don't have good teachers or coaches experienced in the proper mechanics for their sport.

Non-Olympic athletes who are really interested in playing a sport need to think about training during the off-season. Think about doing routine flexibility and strengthening exercises and keeping your body balanced, because that reduces injury. Proper biomechanics and muscular balancing reduces injury. It really does.

I will give you an example. I often see tennis players (and even golfers) in the summer with shoulder pain. They tell me, "Yeah, I didn't do anything all winter, but I just played tennis, 5 games, over the weekend, and my shoulder is killing me."

Well, that is not surprising. The Olympic athlete would never do that. They are training all the time and they are keeping in excellent fitness, excellent muscular balance. They have the coaching, the training, the physical therapist or athletic trainers -- all the resources to help them train properly and stay balanced and fit. They don't get the overuse injuries that a non-Olympian would who jumps into his sport now and again.

So, in summary, what they can learn from Olympic athletes is to stay muscularly balanced and think about conditioning in the off-season or in between their ski trips or weekend games.

Medscape: Are there any specific exercises that you would recommend?

Dr. Beim: Strengthening of the hips. I always harp on people and their hips because many people do not think about them. Also, rotator cuff strength. You may see people in the gym pulling huge weights for the shoulders, but you rarely see them using bands and small weights to work their rotator cuff. These people are more likely to develop bursitis and impingement than the person who works their rotator cuff. If people added into their normal exercise regimen training some of the muscles that they don't usually think about, along with flexibility exercises and stretching, it could make a big difference in their performance and injury rate.

Medscape: What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give athletes during competition?

Dr. Beim: That's easy. Number one, get your rest. We make sure that the athletes get to the Games location in plenty of time before their competition so that they can get rest and their bodies can adapt to the different time zones.

Number two, don't change anything. Don't start a new diet or take any new supplements. Don't change your routine. The Olympic Games is not a time to start something new. I have had athletes tell me about someone from another country who is using this or doing that and ask whether they should try it. And I say, "No, not now." During the Olympic Games is one of the worst times to change anything in your routine.

Three: Enjoy the Games. There is something so special about the Olympic Games. I am an athlete but not nearly at Olympic caliber. I am just there as a doctor, but when walking through an Olympic village, watching an event, or having a meal at the dining hall, the energy is so amazing. It is different from any other sporting competition that I have ever had the pleasure of attending. It is such an incredible experience and opportunity. So, just take it all in and use it to accelerate your passion for what you are doing.

Medscape: You have seen so many treatment modalities in other countries during your travels. What have you learned about best practices, and what treatments have you been exposed to that you wouldn't have otherwise?

Dr. Beim: When I visit other countries, I am always intermixing with other doctors, sharing stories, learning about what they are doing, and teaching them what I am doing. It is a wonderful way to expand your mind about global medicine.

When I was the CMO at the Pan Am Games in 2011, some clinicians from the US Olympic Committee were using diagnostic musculoskeletal ultrasound. I had read about it but had never really seen it used that much. For instance, the radiology department in my local hospital does not routinely do musculoskeletal ultrasound. When I saw it at the Pan Am Games, I was blown away and immediately hooked by what we could do with this approach. The minute I got back I bought a machine and started training very hard. Now I cannot imagine practicing without it. I don't do any injections without my ultrasound. I have reduced my MRI usage probably by 75% for shoulders -- and shoulder surgery is one of my specialties. It is amazing what you can "see with sound." It is great for the patient. For example: You have somebody with a possible rotator cuff tear. Ordinarily you'd order an MRI, get it preauthorized, wait for it to be scheduled, get it done, and get the patient back in the office to read it. How long are you talking about? If you're lucky, a week -- maybe more. Whereas with the diagnostic ultrasound, you are in the office, and within 5 minutes you can see the tear and show it to the patient. And you have spent about one third of what an MRI would have cost.

Medscape: And you are using this at the Olympics?

Dr. Beim: Oh, yes. We will have 2 ultrasound machines. I have given talks to other orthopedists, trying to get them excited. Very few are using this technology themselves. It just hasn't become mainstream, and every year these machines get better. There is a learning curve, to be sure, and some doctors may be too busy.

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