For the next two weeks, we will watch the world’s best winter athletes compete for gold in Sochi, Russia..
They didn’t just become that way. Years and years of hard work, sacrifice, and – yes – talent got them there. And along the way, their path has been made easier and their injuries and illnesses tallied by the sports medics who worked with them.
Last week, Medscape released a compilation of recent studies of elite winter athletes.
In one, published last year in the European Heart Journal, long distance cross-country skiers were found to have heart arrhythmias at twice the rate one would otherwise expect. Those who skied the fastest in the longest races had the highest rate of trouble.
These results are consistent with what has been found in marathon runners. This isn’t to say that aerobic exercise isn’t good for you but too much very well could be. Dallas physician Kenneth Cooper, MD – now 82 years old, is considered the “father of aerobics.” Years ago, he warned that anyone who ran more than 30-35 minutes per day was doing it for reasons other than heart health. The same, it seems, can be said for cross-country skiing.
In another study, published two years ago in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Austrian researchers looked at ACL injuries among teenage alpine skiers from 1996 to 2006. Similar to what has been seen in the United States among basketball and soccer players, the female skiers were more than twice as likely to tear an ACL than the males. Across genders, the greatest risk factor for ACL injury was poor core strength. Something to consider for even the casual skier.
Something else for the casual skier to consider is wearing a helmet. In the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, researchers at the University of Vermont found that skiers and snowboarders who wear a helmet are far less likely to suffer a skull fracture. Still, ski helmets do not seem to protect particularly well against injury to the brain itself. The rate of bleeding within the skull was nearly as high for those wearing a helmet as for those not.
Five days ago, ABC News did a story on the “Concussion Dangers on Sochi’s Slopes.” In it, Dr. Stuart Willick, professor of sports medicine at the University of Utah Orthopaedic Center, said there was little known about the long-term health of Olympic-level skiers and snowboarders. He should have stopped there.
He went on to say that it was likely that those with multiple concussions were at greater risk of degenerative brain diseases such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). However, there is no research to suggest such a thing. The risk of CTE increases only with years of playing a COLLISION sport, NOT number of concussions.
Update: In last week’s column, a quote attributed to Munster cardiologist Amy Bales, MD, should have read, “Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is often picked up on a physical exam but there are individuals in whom it can be missed.”
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.