Protecting the health of Olympic athletes

03 Feb 2014 14:24:04.563

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An academic from The University of Nottingham is going to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi to carry out research that will help protect elite athletes from injury and illness.

Dr Debbie Palmer-Green, a Sports Medicine Research Fellow in the University’s Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, will be working on behalf of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on its Injury and Illness Surveillance programme with all National Olympic Committees (NOC), including Great Britain, and their Olympic sports.

Injury/illness prevention is a key mandate for the IOC, and this is one of several studies that Dr Palmer-Green has been involved in. Day-to-day, she runs the English Institute of Sports Injury/Illness Performance Project (IIPP) at the University, which she set up from scratch five years ago to provide surveillance on Great Britain elite athletes who compete in Olympic sports.

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Reducing the severity of injury

The purpose of the trip to Sochi is to work with IOC’s medical research group to audit any athlete injuries or illnesses that occur during the games. The aim of the research is to identify areas of risk, with a view to reducing the occurrence and severity of injuries and illnesses during the Olympic Games.

Dr Palmer-Green said: “The IOC has been running injury surveillance for the last five summer and winter Olympic Games. The aim of surveillance research is to monitor and protect the athletes’ health long-term.  Governing bodies have a duty of care to monitor what goes on and to identify any potential risks and then make changes to reduce those risks. The IOC work aims to do this during the pinnacle international sporting event, the Olympics.

“I worked at the London 2012 Olympic Games as a researcher within the IOC’s scientific and medical research group, and following two studies around those games, I have since been asked to carry on my work in Sochi. In those studies we were able to identify the rate and severity of any issues. So any athlete injuries or illnesses that are reported during the games are recorded, so we can then look at when they happen, how they happen, and how long it takes for the competitors to recover.”

The most recent piece of research completed by Dr Palmer-Green is A Novel Epidemiological Approach for Recording the Consequences of Sports Injury and Illness,which is published in the Journal of Sports Medicine.

The paper looks at data collected in the United Kingdom, from 10 GB Olympic sports between September 2009 and August 2012 and 322 high performance athletes. By examining the frequency, severity and causes of sports injuries and illnesses, researchers were able to measure the risk to athletes and provide guidance and direction to sports teams medical and coaching staff. The results will provide a deeper understanding of injuries/illnesses and in turn ensure more accurately targeted prevention initiatives. Ultimately, to minimise training days lost and maximise the training and preparation time of some of the nation’s brightest medal hopefuls.

Other recent papers co-authored by Dr Palmer-Green that have been published include ‘The London 2012 Summer Olympic Games: an analysis of usage of the Olympic Village ‘Polyclinic’ by competing athletes.

And — ‘Sports injuries and illnesses during the London Summer Olympic Games 2012.

“This type of data is invaluable longitudinally for sports clubs or national teams, or to those setting up major sporting events. By gathering this information, we can look at developing preventative measures that are tailored for their specific sport which could significantly reduce not only the amount of injuries and illnesses occurring, but also the time lost when training due to recovery,” adds Dr Palmer-Green.

Dr Palmer-Green has more than just a professional interest in her research: the former Olympian suffered “more than her fair share of injuries and illness” during a 12 year career as a Great Britain short-track speed-skater. She went to the Albertville, Lillehammer and Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games in a career that saw her take three world cup medals and 12 European medals at various championships

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Charlotte Anscombe – Media Relations Manager (Arts and Social Sciences)

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