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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.



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