Overcoming Injuries at the Olympic Level

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As the 2016 Summer Olympics games in Rio are rapidly approaching, the Olympic hopefuls are working their hardest to be prepared for competition. They have been training and mentally preparing for the last four years with dreams to bring home the gold. For some, their dreams are challenged when faced with a difficult injury.

Based on a study completed by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 1,219 athletes went through physiotherapy at the London Summer Olympic games in 2012. Of those 1,219 athletes, 15.4% of the injuries were knee related, 15.2% were spine and lower back, and 12.6% were for upper back injuries.

You might be asking, how does this affect their preparation, both mentally and physically? The Olympic games are one of the biggest moments in a professional athletes life, and an injury can be detrimental to their ability to perform and compete.

Take Tiana Penitani for example. Penitani, an Australian rugby player, suffered a torn ACL in 2014 during the summer Nanjing Youth Olympic Games. In an interview with the Olympic Channel, she revealed she’s undergone thirteen months of intense therapy. All of her focus and determination was to heal in order to compete with her teammates.

During the interview, Penitani broke down the steps she took to overcome her injury. First, she had to focus on correcting any previous habits that could have led to her injury. It took her 4 to 5 months before she began running again. From there, her rehab started becoming more challenging. However, one of the largest factors in her improvement was her support system. A demobilizing injury like this not only affects the body, but the mind as well. Rugby was her life and the injury threatened her ability play the game she loves. Pentiani’s teammates, coaches and family were all there to support her throughout the process.

Once the injury is healed, there is still work to be done to prevent re-injury. Torbjorn Soligard, a Scientific Manager of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), explained that they “do specific injury prevention training that can reduce injury by over 50%.” They have created an app, called “Get Set”, that goes through various exercises in detail, based on specific body parts. Their goal is to encourage athletes to do their exercises, and do them correctly.

Kjetil Jansrund’s, a Norwegian World Cup alpine ski racer, advice for post injury is to not “cheat yourself” and to “be patient.” “When you’re healthy, you’ll feel healthy,” he said.

Oliver Poirier Leroy, a former national lever swimmer, gave 5 tips for recovery on a Swimswam.com, a blog dedicated to swimming.

  1. During the healing process, there will be ups and downs. You will face a range of emotions but the goal is to remember that you will get through it with determination.
  2. Rehab takes place outside your regular physical therapy sessions. It is important to be doing your exercises on a regular basis. Similar to learning a language, you need to keep practicing in order to be your best.
  3. Leroy’s advice is to be determined to come back even stronger than before your injury. Without conviction, the injury will never properly heal.
  4. It is vital that you participate in your own recovery. This means educating yourself. Asking yourself questions such as; “Why did this happen” and “what can I do differently to avoid a re-injury?” can help you understand your injury and lead to a better recovery.
  5. Lastly, completing a prehab routine on a regular basis, even long after the injury has healed, will decrease your chances of a re-injury.

For those of us who might not be on the Olympic level, but still compete in sport for pure enjoyment, these are some great tips from professionals whose livelihood depends on their physical wellbeing.


Remember, injuries do happen, but the only way to get back out on the slopes, or the field, or wherever you find your athletic enjoyment, is to persevere and strive to be the best you can be.

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