The same laws apply to caring for the health of an athlete as for any other person. Although the basic principles are the same, sports medicine has minor differences. This is what this text will dig into. The living habits of an athlete require a lot from the body. Even small fluctuations in the balance of the body affect the overall well-being of the body, as well as training and recovery. An athlete’s body is a delicate machinery, whose activities form a complex physiological entirety. This body is the athlete’s tool, which he will learn to use and interpret over time.
Small changes and sensations have to be taken seriously, because as stated above, the effects can be multidimensional. A small cough, tiredness or collywobbles are usually harmless for a person’s everyday routines, but for an athlete even the smallest symptoms can destroy several months worth of preparation for the main goal of the season. Motivated athletes tend to become anxious if their training programme has to be altered without a valid reason, and they want clear instructions for what to do and avoid. Also, they want to know what they can do in order to actively participate in the recovery. That is why an athlete does not like receiving vague advice or be left in suspense by hearing “See how it goes and contact me, if the symptoms don’t go away”.
A challenge the doctor has to face in situations with mild symptoms is that diagnostic methods are likely to eliminate serious illnesses, but they are useless for providing an exact diagnosis. On the other hand, the availability of different diagnostic methods may be a problem as well. Due to issues related to costs, MRIs and other special diagnostic methods are not always available right away. Especially when treating top athletes, it is more likely that medication is prescribed than what is advised by fair treatment recommendation policies. Also, medication is prescribed more preventively and for milder symptoms. A known fact is that reckless courses of antibiotics may lead to increased antibiotic resistance, and increase the number of polypharmatic cases and side effects. On the other hand, careful interpretation of the body and lowered medical consultancy thresholds expedite the starting of diagnoses, which may be a cost-effective way of revealing early stage illnesses with mild symptoms. This leads to reduced incidences of sequelae and less further examinations and treatment required.
An athlete training hard is accustomed to being uncomfortable and experiencing pain. The additional charge caused by focus and the competitive situation may result in e.g. finishing a game with a broken limb. A good physical fitness level may affect the clinical picture of illnesses with mild symptoms, such as infections and respiratory illnesses. The majority of athletes’ illnesses are mild, but serious illnesses also have to be considered if the clinical picture has hints in that direction.
An athlete’s patient-doctor relationship is emphasized by the time it takes for the athlete to get an appointment and by trust, which is usually created during long-term cooperation. An athlete as a patient wishes and respects low threshold activities and the possibility to be in contact with the doctor without stiff and bureaucratic treatment processes. The higher the sports level, the more sport-specific knowledge and skills are demanded from the medical staff. Doctors, physiotherapists and other medical staff should understand the requirement level, technique and training contents of the sport, and be masters of following up on the training and recovery. Doctors who treat athletes must have the skill to create sustaining and substituting training programmes and interact with the coach and physiotherapist about them, because being a sports doctor consists largely of team work. Performing team work is the best way to improve the quality of the training, recovery from it and the follow-up of the work load.
Both the athlete and the doctor know that biology cannot be fooled when straining the body. That’s why athletes need information regarding comprehensive training methods, rational training rhythm, the right balance between exercise and rest, nutrition, mental preparation and avoidance of injuries from professionals. Although a lot can be done for the top athletes and the heroes of tomorrow, the hard work is on the athlete himself. Top-notch sports performance requires motivation and uncompromised persistence, which surprises even the athlete himself.