September 30, 2022 by KiKi Bochi
Tending to Medical Needs of Olympic-Class Skiers is a Side Specialty of Physician at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute
Even with their mastery of speed, dexterity and endurance, Olympic skiers can sustain serious injuries of the knee, lower leg or shoulders. Luis Rodriguez, M.D., a primary care sports medicine physician with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute, is quite familiar with such potential injuries and the medical monitoring of world-class winter athletes.
He is part of the U.S. Ski Team pool of physicians that supervises skiers and other athletes, many of whom are taking part in the Beijing Winter Games. He also participates in coverage of world cup events sanctioned by the International Ski Federation (FIS).
Dr. Rodriguez (pictured above at Beaver Creek, Colorado, which is the site of the International Ski Federation’s Alpine Ski World Cup) is not directly taking part in the Olympic games, although he helped guide the medical needs of some of the top skiing competitors and has worked closely with Jonathan Finnoff, M.D., chief medical officer for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Just last month, Dr. Rodriguez was in Innsbruck, Austria as a covering physician during the prestigious Ski Jumping Four Hills Tournament. He’s also covered events in Italy and Germany as a pool physician for the U.S. Ski Team.
He is watching the Olympics on television with a bit of a different perspective than most spectators.
“First and foremost, I enjoy watching the Winter Olympics a lot just to see their skills,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “But I have to say that sometimes I am a bit nervous when I see some things because of some of the injuries I’ve treated. Maybe they seem to lose their footing or balance a little bit — slightly on a turn, for example — It makes me a bit anxious sometimes even though I know these athletes work tirelessly on mastering their skills. That’s some of the side effects, I guess, of doing what I do.”
Common Injuries Among Competitive Skiers
A wide range of injuries can occur in snow skiing. Knee injuries are common, particularly injuries of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the tissue that connects the thighbone to the shinbone, at the knee. Also because skiers and snowboarders may put their arms out to break a fall, wrist and shoulder injuries — such as fractures, dislocations and sprains — may occur.
The International Ski Federation, or Fédération internationale de ski (FIS), is the top 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.
High-level athletes such as those in the Olympics are more prone to serious injuries than even the most experienced of casual skiers, explains Dr. Rodriguez.
“There are some complicating factors that arise from the fact that they are high-level athletes,” he said. “For example, they’re going faster than you and I. If I ski recreationally, I’m not going as fast as they’re going. As another example, the bindings on their skis are much tighter than settings used by an amateur or intermediate skier. So, if you have a binding that doesn’t come apart and your leg is still stuck to that binding, then you can have a twisting injury that can be much more severe.”
For the elite athletes, taking measures to prevent serious injuries is key — even as they accelerate to qualify for, or win, a particular event.
“If we’re talking about a fall or crash where the skier only had some scrapes and bruises, then they may be able to go back and compete that day. For example, if it happens in the trial round and they’re still healthy, they can go back and do their qualifying round. Obviously, if it happens in the qualifying or competition round the implications are different.” More severe injuries may unfortunately medically disqualify the athlete.
Tending to Non-Olympic Skiers
Because of his side passion of tending to elite skiers, many amateur skiers who live here or travel through South Florida seek out the services of Dr. Rodriguez at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute. They include residents here who travel to Colorado or other U.S. skiing locations 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 guidance from Dr. Rodriguez before heading further north to skiing locations.
“I get some patients that seek me out because of my involvement with the U.S. ski team and they see that on a website,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “We see a lot of skiers here that are in transit from South America or Central America to ski in Colorado. Then they may pick up an injury or have some problems, and they want to make sure to address them before they go out there.”
For amateur skiers — whether experienced or beginners — injury prevention needs to be a vital component of their routine, he says.
“The most important thing is understanding that skiing can be a dangerous sport, especially if you’re not familiar with it,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “I would 100 percent recommend that a person take some lessons if they are new to the sport.”
Moreover, if you’re from South Florida and it’s an activity that you do once or twice a year, make sure that you give yourself enough time to acclimate, he adds. “You’re going to colder weather and many times you’re going to a higher elevation area. Ideally you want to give yourself a little bit of time to acclimate. And since it’s not an activity that you’re doing regularly, to try to ease into it. And always, of course, follow the rules and use the proper equipment.”