Last night Michael Phelps won his record 19th Olympic medal when he swam the anchor leg of the gold medal, winning the Men’s 800 meter Freestyle relay. Fittingly, this medal came on a relay, a team event. Although Olympic stories are usually about individual accomplishments, such as Phelps’ feats, the special part of the Olympic Games is competing for your country. As amazing as it is to watch an individual perform, I think the relay events are even more exciting, when athletes compete for their teammates and their country. Thus, I think it was especially fitting that Michael’s record-setting medal came in a relay. It is an honor to be part of the U.S. team. On the medical side, we also have a “team.” The medical team at the Games includes physicians (both orthopedic surgeons and primary care specialists), athletic trainers, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, and a pharmacist. The best sports medicine care is delivered when all of these individuals work together to diagnose and treat athletic injury and illness. Everyone has a role in providing the highest level care to the athlete. Seeing how this team approach can provide such a high level of care provides lessons that we can take back to our own practices. Not only does this team approach allow optimal care for the athlete, but we also learn from each other as we share our expertise and experience. I have learned things that will help me in my own sports medicine practice. The U.S. Olympic Committee sets up a clinic in the Olympic Village where we have all of the resources to take care of the athletes and U.S. staff members. In this clinic we can evaluate injuries, dispense our own medications, and carry out physical therapy and rehabilitation. Along with management of athletic injury and illness, the medical staff here also works with the athletes to prevent injury and optimize performance. In addition to this clinic, the London Organizing Committee also runs a “Polyclinic” in the Olympic Village. This facility has extensive resources including imaging (X-ray, MRI, CT scan), numerous specialists (dentistry, ophthalmology, etc.), and a dispensing pharmacy. This has been very helpful for some of our athletes. For example, I was able to get X-rays and an MRI to evaluate a hand injury for one of our swimmers late Monday night. This allowed rapid diagnosis and management of an injury, which was critical as the athlete had to compete the next day in an Olympic final. This is another example of the importance of a “team” approach to providing the highest level of sports medicine care.
Dr. Scott Rodeo is an orthopedic surgeon and the co-chief of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He serves as a Team Physician for U.S.A. Olympic Swimming.