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Too cold for snow: An Olympic lesson

If you are a fan of winter sports then there is a fair chance that the Winter Olympic Games may deliver a pinnacle of sporting viewing. However, as all sports fans know only too well, truly memorable contests come about when athletes are able to perform to the best of their ability. And that requires optimum conditions.

With that in mind it was somewhat concerning to see the weather reports ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games which predicted wind chill factors as low as -25°. Some of the teams were reporting skis warping thanks to the effect of extreme cold on snow crystals and concerns abounded over the effect of unusually low temperatures on athletes. Ironically; despite the cold, or perhaps because of it, there was also concern over snow levels with machines being brought into supplement natural precipitation.

At the time of writing, a few days in to the games, high winds have also proved hazardous with some athletes unhappy at having to compete in what they considered were dangerous conditions. Under such extremes, successfully completing courses is more a lottery than a game of skill; something which no athlete wishes to encounter at the end of four years hard training.

From the safety of our sofas it is hard to imagine the physical and mental effect of extreme cold on the body. Low temperatures can sap brainpower, slowing down decision-making and reducing coordination; not something you want when faced with the challenge of extreme downhill skiing through slalom gates or over jumps. Preparation and training, inbuilt muscle awareness allied to physiotherapy and other physical and health support can go some way towards helping athletes to overcome conditions; but at the end of the day when the weather becomes so extreme inevitably accidents and injuries will occur.

And when breaks, fractures and ligament damage occur, our Olympic athletes are put in the same position as any recreational skier. There is an imperative to heal as quickly as possible in order to return to the normal routine. The only difference is that whilst for most of us that everyday routine will be away from the slopes, for Winter Olympians the slopes are their way of life.

This is where physiotherapists and other health professionals truly come into their own. For whilst naturally there is a core treatment plan in order to rehabilitate the injured limb, at the same time athletes have to undergo a programme of training which helps their whole body stay as strong and supple as possible. One leg may be broken but that’s no excuse not to continue to exercise appropriately in order to ensure that core and arm strength and tone are not lost.

It’s a lesson which we can all benefit from; the fact that one injury should not be allowed to affect the entire body. No matter whether we’ve followed our Olympic heroes on to the slopes or injured ourselves in some other fashion, the more we work with health professionals to ensure rehabilitation across the entire body, the better chance we have of regaining full strength and mobility as swiftly as possible.



Post-Olympic preparedness

Let’s start with the uncomfortable truth; even for highly trained Olympic athletes sport can be dangerous. Anyone who doubts that only look at some of the horrific crashes in the cycling road races, or the broken leg suffered by the unfortunate gymnast in the opening days of the Rio Olympics.

But because sport can be dangerous, the better the preparation the more that injuries can be avoided or at least reduced. So whilst pictures of bored lifeguards sitting at the side of the Olympic pool may have given rise to some comment, competitors who inadvertently inhale water or suffer from a sudden cramp may be very glad that there is someone on hand to haul them out.

No matter what the sport; whilst talent plays its part, the secret to success is in the preparation. So those participating in sport have to ensure that their training is carefully balanced and this includes managing the pre-and post training warm up and warm down phases. Coaches too play their part in ensuring safety, as do those who manage sports venues. And this is before we bring in the ancillary support team which may include physiotherapists and chiropractors, sports nutritionists and psychologists.

However, whilst our Olympians may have a significant retinue to call upon, everyday athletes may find that the responsibility for safe training and performance falls very much more on their shoulders. This is not to say that support staff aren’t available if required; it is just that for the majority of athletes, health professionals such as physiotherapists are far more likely to become involved once an injury has occurred rather than at the preparation and training stage.

This of itself can cause something of a problem for health professionals. Following every Olympic Games there is a resurgence in interest in sports participation, and it is expected that the Rio Olympics will be no different. Whilst this is great news for sports clubs and for the overall level of fitness within the country, with a revival of interest in sport comes an inevitable increase in injuries. This can result in a significant increase in demand for health professionals to provide physiotherapy or other treatments.

Coping with this sudden increase in demand requires preparation. From a societal point of view, health professionals may feel that it is beneficial to work with local sports clubs, helping them to help their athletes to understand the importance of preparation in reducing the chances of injury.

But whilst this may play some part in helping sportspeople to look after their bodies, health professionals also need to work to streamline their practice in order to reduce strain on their time. Yet, as with fitness training, simple steps can make a measurable difference. For example, switching telephones to a virtual assistant service instantly frees up time which would otherwise be taken in simply talking to people and booking appointments. Similarly, offering an online booking service can help clients to book appointments at a time which is convenient to them without the need for a long discussion.

And when appointments have been made, SMS text reminders help to ensure that people turn up on time today treatments, helping the day to run smoothly and reducing the incidence of missed appointments. Similarly, online filing patient notes means that patient details are available at the click of a button rather than following a lengthy search through filing cabinets.

With a little preparation comes the chance for success. The majority of sportspeople will never experience the Olympic Games as a competitor; but they still can push their own boundaries, challenging themselves to be the best that they can be. With health professionals on side, helping to keep people fit and to manage injuries, we all have chance to benefit from the Olympic legacy.


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