Olympics are bad for your health. We’ve probably all been slightly couch-potatoish while they’ve been on, missing out on our own exercise to make sure we watch these phenomenal athletes.
But their health is under threat too. I was particularly struck this year by the amount and prevalence of bandaging and taping amongst the athletes. I don’t remember it being quite so widespread before. So I’ve done some digging around to find out what health hazards accompany indulging in such demanding activities to perfectionist level. It’s quite worrying reading.
First up, diving, and particularly high diving. All divers wear wrist supports these days to help mitigate their impact with the water at around 34 miles per hour. These also help when they’re doing their handstands on the diving board. Divers are also prone to back and shoulder injuries. The occasional bad landing on the water causes bruising and welts but generally has no long-term effects.
Gymnasts next, and these are the worst off. Along with the handsprings come sprains, and with the flips come fractures. Researchers in the US (based at Ohio State University) found that there are 25,000 gymnastics injuries a year in the US alone. Most of these involve wrists and ankles, but necks get their fair share of punishment too. A lot of these apparently occur because gymnasts aren’t currently taught how to fall properly. In a sport where there’s a lot of falling off beams, vaulting horses and bars, you’d think trainers would cover the basics of how to land safely, as in judo for example.
Collar bone and wrist fractures beset cyclists, cartilage problems attack swimmers (and you can break your nose hitting the wall at the end of a race as I’ve done twice in my career), hernias are induced by shot putting and compound fractures lie in wait for runners, particularly of long distances. It’s not very encouraging, is it?
I always think weightlifting looks like it’s incredibly bad for you. I have visions of knee caps popping off during the heaving up part of the lift. But in fact weightlifting has one of the lowest injury rates of any sport. Weightlifters sustain 0.0017 injuries per 168.551 hours, a good bit less than for either squash or badminton, which really seem rather safe, cushy pastimes.
So, it rather looks like sport is bad for you. But since it’s also incredibly enjoyable to do, and possibly even more fun to watch when it’s Olympics time, I know I won’t be put off.
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