Olympic doctors have their hands full

Santiago Freixa of Spain grimaces after breaking his arm

LONDON, England ● Olympic doctors have had 20,000 consultations with athletes, spectators, staff and journalists during London 2012, but the Games’ head medic is quietly confident at how they have been able to fix most people up to get on with the show.

Hockey players have broken bones, wrestlers have suffered bulging black eyes, cyclists have crashed, athletes have torn muscles and spectators have had heart attacks – and according to chief medical officer Richard Budgett, each has been treated swiftly and effectively.

“It’s been really busy. But there’s also been enough time to do things well,” Budgett said at the Olympic Park in the east of London.

“The vast majority have been joint strains or muscle sprains. Some injuries are more serious than others, and broken bones are a fraction of them,” he said. “We’ve got two MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanners and they’ve been going flat out from 7 in the morning to 11 at night.”

Budgett is in no doubt about his top priorities. The athletes’ health is paramount, he says, as is getting them back into action.

“They are here for a once-every-four-years event,” he said. “You’ll never get a more motivated bunch.

“It’s up to us and the team doctors to make that call – about whether it’s appropriate for an (injured) athlete to compete. And actually nine times out of 10, it is.

“They may be in some pain, they may have an injury, but as long as there is no dangerous long-term effect of competing, then you get them back out there to do it.”

Athletes at the Games have access to 24-hour free healthcare ranging from state of the art eye care and dentistry to sports physiotherapy, osteopathy and surgery at a 23 million pound ($36 million) “polyclinic” in the Olympic village.

Smaller medical teams including physiotherapists, sports medicine specialists and sometimes an emergency doctors, anaesthetists and orthopaedic surgeons are at every sports venue ready to react if someone goes down.

“The venue teams have actually been really quiet,” said Budgett. “Most of the time they don’t even get their hands on an athlete.”

“The overwhelming majority of the work has been at the clinic. In all, we’ve had around 20,000 consultations so far, including about 4,000 with athletes.”

Two people have died, one a man who was knocked off his bike and killed and another a spectator who had a heart attack.

Hockey has seen some of the most dramatic injuries, with the British women’s team captain Kate Walsh suffering a broken jaw and the Spanish men’s team captain Santiago Freixa breaking his arm on the first day of play.

While Freixa’s injury forced him out of the 2012 Games, Walsh was able to come back to compete just six days after her injury.

“The whole aim of the sport medicine service and of these big multidisciplinary teams … is to get the athlete back as quickly as possible,” Budgett said.

“And as we’ve seen with the broken jaw – if treat really effectively, really quickly and really well, then you can get them back to the field of play a few days later.”


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