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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Olympic-Sized Injuries in Rio

Published August 12, 2016 10:10 AM by Katherine Bortz

When athletics become not only your profession but also a defining characteristic in your life, it’s hard to say when “enough is enough.” The Olympic Games have a history of showing fortitude and determination in its competitors, but there have been many examples of athletes with severe injuries pushing past their own limits to reach the top of the podium.

Kerri Strug is undoubtedly one of the most notable injured athletes of the past. The gymnast with two torn ligaments in her ankle was able to score an impressive 9.712 on a difficult vault. Once she landed, she immediately took all weight off of her left foot and proceeded to make her way off the mat with the help of others. With this vault, she helped secure gold for the 1996 women’s gymnastics team, but had to be carried to the awards ceremony by Coach Bela Karolyi.

This year’s Olympic Games in Rio proved to be no different than the ones in year’s past. Several athletes worked through severe injuries while others made the call to drop out. These athletes were noticeably affected by their injuries:

  • Armenian weightlifter Andranik Karapetyan   hyperextension of the elbow while lifting
  • French gymnast Samir Aït Saïd  – double break in leg
  • Cyclists Richie Porte (Australia) and Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)  various injuries after crash, including broken collar bones
  • Cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) three broken vertebrae and a major concussion after crash
  • Gymnast Elissa Downie (Great Britain) – fell directly on head and neck after tumbling pass* 

*continued to compete after injury

As a physical therapist, when do you think “enough is enough”? Are there times where you think that the athlete should have to put their health second? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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The Summer Olympics only happen once every four years and during the years leading up to the next Olympic games, athletes put their lives into their sport. When competition day approaches, athletes will do anything they can to at least say they gave it their best shot. From a quality of life and psychological standpoint, allowing them to compete is important. They do not want to leave the Olympics with :what if they had competed on an injury" because years down the road, they'll wonder how far they could have made it if they had simply at least tried. Unless their life is on the line, they should be allowed to put their health second. However, prior to letting them make the decision, they should be educated on the consequences of competing on certain injuries such as future exacerbation of the injury and the detrimental effects as they age. Furthermore, the athlete should take a significant period of time off once the competition is over to address the medical issues. A moment that happens to only a small percentage of the population should be allowed to compete as long as education occurs before and appropriate treatment occurs immediately post competition.

Chelsea Hollingsworth March 30, 2017 10:02 AM

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