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1st Feb

2010

Training an Olympian versus the Non-Athlete

Many of us are watching with fascination the athletes at the current Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, with their incredible skills and ability to subject themselves to enormous forces, and in the process risking potentially severe injury. Certainly many people contemplate what it takes to reach that level of athletic superiority, and how those athletes rehabilitate when suffering from their numerous injuries. How are they different from the rest of us, and are there similarities in the approaches of rehabilitation following injuries?

NEUROMUSCULAR PERFECTION AND WINNER’S MENTALITY

The top Olympic athlete is typically a person who has the combination of superior genetic makeup, a highly functioning neuromusculoskeletal system resulting from many years of grueling and scientifically based sports training, and an incredible drive for winning while suppressing negative emotions such as fear and feeling of inferiority.

In most sports, it takes many years to physically prepare the body to reach an elite level, by optimally develop qualities such as muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness (which are interrelated), neuromuscular coordination, as well as strength and power. Yes, flexibility may enhance performance in some sports, but it is typically not the quality which differentiates the top athlete from the rest of us.

Of all these qualities, neuromuscular coordination may be the most important in the majority of sports, where most top athletes are superbly conditioned. We see almost all athletes spending considerable time performing sports specific training, and challenging their bodies with exercise where their coordination and balance is put to the ultimate test.

Rarely do we see successful athletes spend most of their workouts pushing weights on machines, where coordination is not challenged at all. That can build strength and muscle bulk, but not athletic performance (it may be a small component of their training, however).

SPORTS MEDICINE CONCEPT

The term “Sports Medicine” has now existed for several decades, which entails understanding the demands of the athlete, and how to optimally prevent and treat injuries in sports. This branch of medicine, which embraces the understanding that correctly performed training can strengthen tissues such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, to some extent cartilage and spinal discs as well as develop greater vascular bends and change our neuromusculoskeletal physiology, has also had an impact on medicine and health care in the general population, and even in industrial medicine.

REHABILITATION SIMILARITIES

Although there are many differences in injury rehabilitation of the top athlete versus the general population, there are more similarities. Or at least, there ought to be, although these principles are still not utilized by many clinics.

The common goal is to optimally enhance healing and promote strength of the injured tissues to the extent possible, minimize the pain, and restore normal movement and neuromuscular function to a level above the pre-injury level, in order to also prevent recurrence.

We believe that the most important neuromuscular quality that needs to be promoted through the majority of the exercise rehabilitation, is coordination. That means learning to recruit the desired muscle groups, and moving the body in specific ways, to restore a normal movement pattern while simultaneously protecting and strengthening the injured or affected tissues. This is exactly what the athlete must do as well. The only difference is that he/she will take this further, to specific sports movements, and while developing a higher level of neuromuscular qualities.

Therefore, the Sports Medicine principles of rehabilitation really apply to essentially everyone we see in our clinic. The key difference is dosage of training, and in considering each person’s tissue health/age, and personal goals. In doing so, even the 80 year old arthritic patient will see optimal improvement in function and pain reduction, just like the super athlete who throws himself down a 50 degree mountain slope at 75 miles per hour.

For most people, this rehabilitation approach is also much more enjoyable than simply relying on medications, receiving hot packs and ultrasound, and avoiding most activities in life.

Enjoy watching the Olympics, and go USA!

To your continued good health,

Gunnar

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