Even with their mastery of speed, dexterity and endurance, Olympic skiers can sustain serious knee, lower leg or shoulder injuries. Luis Rodriguez, MD, primary care sports medicine physician at the Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute, is familiar with these potential injuries and the medical monitoring of world-class winter athletes.
He is part of the U.S. Ski Team’s pool of doctors who oversee skiers and other athletes, many of whom compete in the Beijing Winter Games. He also participates in the coverage of World Cup events sanctioned by the International Ski Federation (FIS).
Dr Rodriguez (pictured above in Beaver Creek, Colorado, which is the site of the International Ski Federation’s Alpine Skiing World Cup) is not competing directly in the Olympics, although he has helped guide the medical needs of some of the top ski competitors and has worked closely with Jonathan Finnoff, MD, Chief Medical Officer of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Just last month, Dr. Rodriguez was in Innsbruck, Austria, as a cover doctor at the prestigious Four Hills Ski Jumping Tournament. He also covered events in Italy and Germany as a pool doctor for the US Ski Team.
He watches the Olympics on TV with a slightly different perspective than most viewers.
“First and foremost, I really enjoy watching the Winter Olympics just to see their skills,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “But I have to say that sometimes I get a little nervous when I see certain things because of some of the wounds that I have treated. Maybe they seem to lose their footing or balance a bit – a bit in a turn, for example – It makes me a bit anxious at times even though I know these athletes work tirelessly to master their skills. That’s some of the side effects, I guess, of doing what I do.
Common Injuries in Competitive Skiers
A wide range of injuries can occur in snow skiing. Knee injuries are common, especially injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the tissue that connects the femur to the tibia, at the knee. Additionally, because skiers and snowboarders may reach out to cushion a fall, wrist and shoulder injuries, such as broken bones, dislocations, and sprains, can occur.
The International Ski Federation, or International Ski Federation (FIS), is the main international governing body for skiing and snowboarding. Founded in 1924 in Chamonix, France, the FIS oversees the Olympic disciplines of alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, freestyle skiing and snowboarding. The FIS also sets the rules for international competition.
Top athletes like those competing in the Olympics are more prone to serious injury than even the most experienced casual skiers, Dr. Rodriguez says.
“There are complicating factors that stem from the fact that they are top athletes,” he said. “For example, they go faster than you and me. If I’m recreational skiing, I’m not going as fast as them. Another example, the bindings of their skis are much tighter than the settings used by an amateur or intermediate skier. So if you have a binding that won’t come apart and your leg is still stuck to that binding, you may have a twisting injury which can be much more serious.
For elite athletes, it’s essential to take steps to prevent serious injury, even when they’re accelerating to qualify or win a particular event.
“If we’re talking about a fall or an accident where the skier only had a few scratches and bruises, maybe he can go back and compete that day. For example, if it happens in the practice round and they are still healthy, they can go back and do their qualifying round. Obviously, if this happens in qualifying or competition, the implications are different. More serious injuries can unfortunately medically disqualify the athlete.
Caring for non-Olympic skiers
Because of his side passion of caring for elite skiers, many recreational skiers who live here or travel to South Florida seek out Dr. Rodriguez’s services at the Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute. They include residents here who travel to Colorado or other ski locations in the United States and return with minor or serious injuries. And then there are those skiers from Central or South America who stop in South Florida to get medical advice from Dr. Rodriguez before heading further north to the ski resorts.
“I get patients who are looking for me because of my involvement with the US Ski Team and they see this on a website,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “We see a lot of skiers here who are in transit from South America or Central America to ski in Colorado. Then they can get injured or have issues, and they want to make sure they get it fixed before to get out.
For recreational skiers, whether experienced or beginners, injury prevention should be an essential part of their routine, he says.
“The most important thing is to understand that skiing can be a dangerous sport, especially if you don’t know it,” Dr Rodriguez said. “I would 100% recommend that a person take lessons if they are new to the sport.”
Also, if you’re from South Florida and it’s something you do once or twice a year, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to acclimate, he adds. “You go to colder weather and many times you go to a higher elevation area. Ideally, you want to give yourself some time to acclimatize. And since it’s not something you do regularly, try to take it easy. And always, of course, follow the rules and use the right equipment.