As Team USA prepares for this summer’s Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it’s important to keep in mind how these athletes train to perform at their best and also stay healthy.
Track and Field is considered a non-contact sport, so for the most part, injuries are related to overuse. Also, a majority of the injuries involve the lower extremity.
Common injuries seen in the track and field athlete include:
- Upper leg: quadriceps (front of the leg) and hamstring (back of the leg) strains
- Knee: Iliotibial band syndrome, patellar tendinosis, patellofemoral dysfunction, meniscal injuries
- Lower leg: shin splints, stress fractures, ankle sprains, Achilles tendinitis and tendinosis, heel pain
- Wounds and Sores: blisters, scrapes and burns from falling
While it is not possible to prevent injuries completely, track and field athletes can work to maintain a training program that works for them and for their specific event. For example, a throwers conditioning program will look very different from a sprinter’s or pole vaulter’s program. Ways in which athletes prepare include:
Adequate hydration is essential for all athletes during, between, and after events.
Drinking fluids such as water or a sports drink continuously throughout the day can help to maintain hydration. Examples of ways to stay hydrated around competition include drinking 16 ounces 2 hours before physical activity and another 8-16 ounces approximately 15 minutes before activity. During activity, drinking 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes is highly recommended. After activity, an athlete should drink 16-20 ounces for every pound lost during physical activity.
For most athletes, the goal is to eat an adequate amount of calories from a variety of wholesome foods to meet nutritional needs. While supplementation may be necessary in certain situations (such as vitamin deficiency), proper food selection is the ideal form of nutrition. Team USA would typically work along with the Host Team to develop a diverse nutrition network, closely involving qualified sports dieticians/nutritionists.
Physical conditioning is essential to prevention of injury. Poor mechanics and improper technique can place added stress on joints, bones, and tendons. It is estimated that Team USA athletes training for The Olympics may put in 6 or more hours a day of training, 6 days a week. Areas where an athlete may spend time during conditioning include:
Adequate sleep is generally important for health and is extremely important when it comes to the athlete. Specifically, research has shown that sleep is important for day to day recovery from training. In Rio, some of the competitions will be held at night, which could negatively affect the performance of some athletes. It will be important for Team USA to work closely with sleep specialists to create the best environment for athletes.
Proper fitting equipment is crucial with all sporting activities. For the track and field athlete, proper fitting shoes are important, especially for long distance runners. It is important to keep in mind that each athlete will need shoes tailored for their event. All participants should be assessed for the most appropriate shoe for their foot.
Dr. Daphne A. Scott is an Assistant Attending Physician at Hospital for Special Surgery. She specializes in the non-surgical treatment of acute, overuse, and chronic injuries. She is board certified in Family Medicine and has a certificate of added qualification in Sports Medicine.