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Winter Olympics Part 2: Common Injury Trends for Winter Olympic Athletes

Posted April 23, 2018

By Mackenzie Simmons, ATC

From February 9 to 25, athletes from over 200 countries competed in 15 different sports in South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics Games. While Olympic athletes are trained for a high level of competition, they are still at an increased risk of acute and chronic musculoskeletal disorders while contending for their country.

During the last 2 Winter Olympic Games, the National Olympic Committee, along with the medical staff at each venue, compiled injury and illness information on the athletes who were competing in each sport. The injury surveillance system was developed by the International Olympic Committee as way to monitor the injury trends, and hopefully assist the committee in finding ways to help keep the athletes healthy for competition. In both studies, an injury or illness was documented if it was a new musculoskeletal condition or concussion that occurred during the training or competition period of the respective Olympic Games; pre-existing conditions that had not been fully rehabilitated yet were not included in either study.

This blog will to look at common injury trends for the athletes in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The 2010 Winter Olympics were in Vancouver and 2,567 athletes were entered in competition. 270 athletes (11%) had at least 1 injury occur, and 13 athletes had 2 or more injuries during the training and competition period. In the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, 2,780 athletes competed in at least 1 sport (8 athletes competed in 2 sports). 330 athletes (12%) sustained 1 injury during the training and competition period, and 46 athletes had 2 or more injuries during this time period.

Certain sports had an elevated risk of injury, while other sports displayed minimal to no occurrence of an injury. The chart below shows the 6 events with the highest risk of being injured, either during practice or during competition. Between the last 2 Olympic Games, athletes competing in aerial skiing had the greater percentage of getting injured, followed by snowboard cross. The events with lowest risk for injury included: Nordic skiing events, curling, speed skating, cross-country skiing and freestyle moguls.

Sports

Injury rate for 2010

Injury rate for 2014

Aerial Skiing

40% (19/47 athletes)

49% (21/43)

Snowboard Cross

35% (20/57)

34% (21/61)

Bobsleigh

20% (32/159)

18% (31/171)

Ice Hockey

18% (82/444)

11% (52/466)

Alpine Skiing

15% (21/146)

21% (65/314)

Figure Skating

14% (46/308)

13% (20/149)

The types of injuries that were sustained during the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games are detailed below. The important note about the chart is that the injury numbers in 2010 reflect all injuries, while the numbers in 2014 only looked at severe injuries. The number of serious injuries seemed to decrease from 2010 to 2014. However, it is unknown if the number of injuries actually decreased, or if there were just less injuries reported.

Injury Types

2010

2014

Concussion

20

11

Fractures

19

14

Sprain (Dislocation, subluxation, ligament rupture)

51

25

Contusion

80

6

There were 3 common mechanisms of injury when looking at Olympic athletes—overuse, contact with a stationary object or non-contact trauma. The overuse injuries were mostly seen in athletes who competed in curling, bobsleigh, cross-country skiing and figure skating; this is the only category that had an increase from 2010 to 2014. Contact with a stationary object decreased between the 2 years. This includes becoming injured due to contact with the ground, contact with another athlete or contact with an object. Non-contact trauma also decreased from 2010 to 2014; this is typically from an acute, traumatic injury, such as a ligament or muscle tear.

Mechanism of Injury

2010

2014

Overuse

31 athletes

76

Contact with a stationary object

115

79

Non-contact Trauma

57

41

As of now, there are not very many preventative techniques that can decrease the acute, traumatic injuries that will end the chance of competing in the Olympic Games.Hopefully, as research continues, we will be able to find ways to reduce the number of overuse injuries that limit participation in competition.

References

Engebretsen, L., Steffen, K., Alonso, J. M., Aubry, M., Dvorak, J., Junge, A., ... & Wilkinson, M. (2010). Sports injuries and illnesses during the Winter Olympic Games 2010. British journal of sports medicine, 44(11), 772-780.

Soligard, T., Steffen, K., Palmer-Green, D., Aubry, M., Grant, M. E., Meeuwisse, W., ... & Engebretsen, L. (2015). Sports injuries and illnesses in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Br J Sports Med, 49(7), 441-447.

Read PART ONE

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