By Peter Gerbino, M.D.
Approaching the 2010 Winter Olympics, figure skating is in the spotlight. Those who know that I travel as a Team Physician with U.S. Figure Skating want to know why skaters need a doctor, what injuries they get and how they are treated.
Figure skaters are among the fittest athletes in the world. They train as hard as track and field athletes and get banged up as much as lacrosse players. All skaters are injured in some manner most of the time. The injuries include tendinitis, pulled muscles and bruises. At the Olympics, any serious orthopedic problems will disqualify the skater. Minor orthopedic conditions will have been treated and the skater will have a plan. Most of the medical problems are the kinds of issues seen by athletes at any large event. These include respiratory infections (coughs and colds), fatigue problems from sleep disturbance, time shifting, anxiety or dietary changes, and stomach problems from viruses or eating unusual foods. Most athletes have developed strategies to minimize these potentially disabling conditions.
There is no limit to advice from athletes, coaches, parents and self-appointed specialists. Very little has any science behind it. One strategy that does have science behind it concerns stretching before exercise. The finding of a very well-conducted study was that stretching before exercise may not provide any benefit. Most trainers now recommend only warm-up before training or competition and recommend stretching for specific tightness issues. The study most often cited for this is: THACKER, S. B., J. GILCHRIST, D. F. STROUP, and C. D. KIMSEY, JR. The Impact of Stretching on Sports Injury Risk: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 371-378, 2004.
Good general recommendations for figure skating can be found on the Internet at many locations. The USFS Web site is a great place to start. Other sites include:
Olympic skaters will have the same risks of injury that all skaters have. Most skaters have rituals they go through before a competition to ward off illness, jitters, fatigue and injury. Whether these rituals have a scientific basis or not is only partially relevant. What is most important is that the athlete remains focused and confident.
It would be fascinating and instructive if skaters posted their eating, sleeping and injury-prevention strategies on the