It is estimated that over 3 billion people worldwide have tuned in to watch the Winter Olympics from Sochi, which are now entering their second week. Over 2850 of the best athletes in the world have been competing at the highest level for a chance to earn a medal. Many have been training and competing for years and while maintaining phenomenal physical shape. Unfortunately, that does not prevent them from getting injured.
Throughout the first ten days, the highlights of various events have been broadcasted but many do not see or recognize many of the types of injuries that have taken place. As a TV audience, we often only hear bits and pieces of injuries that have occurred.
In 2004, the International Olympic Committee established the Injury and Illness Surveillance System. This system relies on the head physicians from each country to submit daily reports on the health of their athletes. It has been documented that injuries to the knee have been the most common type of orthopedic problem encountered. Free style snowboarding, bobsled, Alpine skiing, and short tracking speed skating are the events where the highest rates of injuries have occurred. These are events that place an excessive amount of stress on the knee often resulting in a twisting type injury. Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears, meniscal tears, and even fractures to the leg can result from these high energy injuries.
One interesting competitor is a female Alpine skier from Great Britain. At a young age of 31 years old, it is reported that she has fractured 42 bones since starting the sport! One of the top Russian figure skaters was forced to withdraw from the finals after re-aggravating an old injury. Again, another 31 year old with a history of knee and back problems. He reportedly has had over 12 orthopedic surgeries throughout his career.
At the same time I am writing this, there have been reports of several skiers who were injured during practice on the men’s ski jumping hill. In addition to head injuries, an ACL tear and finger fracture were also noted for one skier.
While most of my patients are not in the finals of Olympic speed skating or competing in men’s downhill skiing, as an orthopedic surgeon, these are the same type of injuries that I evaluate and treat on a routine basis.