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Avoid Sports Injuries: Tips From an Olympic Doctor

By Carol Peckham
Medscape Medical News

Editor's Note: Gloria Beim, MD, is the Team USA chief medical officer (CMO) for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This is the third Olympics she has served in and her first as CMO. She was the team physician for cycling and tae kwon do in the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics and was venue medical director and team physician for Team USA at the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Beim is the founder of Alpine Orthopaedics in Colorado. She is also an author, most recently of The Female Athlete's Body Book: How to Prevent and Treat Sports Injuries in Women and Girls.

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

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, five 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?

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.

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