MedPageToday.com—July 24, 2012
While the world watches elite athletes like Michael Phelps and Hope Solo go for Olympic gold, the athletes' team physicians will be watching them, too, but with a different perspective.
That means taking care of injuries and optimizing exercise regimens, as well as treating any minor issues that crop up -- from coughs and colds to upset stomachs.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has 80 medical professionals on hand to care for its 525 athletes. Practitioners of allopathic and osteopathic medicine will work side by side with chiropractors and massage therapists to help their athletes stay at the top of their game.
Almost all physicians are assigned to specific teams, but many also will serve in the U.S. team's medical clinic within the Olympic Village. It's a full-service walk-in clinic for athletes, coaches, and staff, equipped to handle most issues, from lacerations to fractures.
Athletes from every nation also will have access to the Olympic Village Polyclinic, set up by the London Olympics organizing committee and stocked with major equipment, including MRI and x-ray machines.
"Rarely do we have to access any outside care," said Scott Rodeo, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan who will be caring for the U.S. swim team -- though he noted that organizers have arranged for access to London hospitals in the case of a major emergency.
Olympic Training for Doctors
This will be Rodeo's third time taking care of Olympic swimmers -- he worked the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing games -- though the road to becoming an Olympic physician isn't a short one.
As the games get closer and team rosters fall into place, team physicians need to review the athletes' medical history to get a full sense of each of their new patients.
"Like the athletes prepare with years of training, we prepare the same way," Rodeo told MedPage Today from his hotel in France, where the swim team was training just days before the opening ceremonies.
In addition to treating illness and injury -- "shoulder pain is common in swimmers," Rodeo said -- physicians also serve as advocates for athletes during drug testing.
That means keeping current with lists of banned substances, which Rodeo said can change year-to-year as new drugs are added.
"We need to understand which medications are allowed and which aren't so that we only use appropriate ones," Rodeo said. For instance, there's no treating those coughs and colds with pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) -- the over-the-counter medication would turn a positive on a drug test.
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Rarely do so many disciplines on the medical spectrum work so closely together, with MDs literally rubbing elbows with chiropractors and massage therapists in the Olympic Village clinics.
"Everyone has their own expertise, background, and perspective," Rodeo said. "You check your ego at the door, and you learn a lot. In medicine, the more information the better."
"It's hard to beat some of the things that Michael Phelps has done, but it's the day-to-day things, working with this very select group of athletes who've spent the better part of their lives training for this opportunity, that are really memorable," Rodeo said.