The medicine behind Citius, Altius, Fortius – Chawm Ganguly

chawmzzAs kids, and extremely outgoing, naughty kids at that, we were not unfamiliar with physical injuries. Nasty bruises, swollen limbs, bleeding wounds were all, like the trophies we won, integral parts of our lives, fundamental to growing up. The balms too were equally predictable consisting of ice packs, all purpose anti-septic lotions and a paste of lime and turmeric. Senior players, who were competing on higher levels, were not a pampered lot either, especially when it concerned the treatment of myriad sports related injuries. One was encouraged to grin and bear it, as we were fed on a romantic notion of stoicism – no pain, no gain. Forget about a trained doctor, in those days, we were not even pampered by the attention of a paramedic, or even a physiotherapist – the sporting “officials” used to administer what they thought was the desired dosage.

Competition used to be intense but not cut-throat and the very notion of using sports medicine to traverse the distance between the winner and the also-ran was literally unknown. Then came the deluge of coaches from the eastern-bloc countries who allegedly injected the first performance-enhancers into our systems. There was money to be made, medals to be won and strict regimens to be followed, pushing of steroids included. Our medals tally in international sporting events like the Olympics or the Asian games may not bear this out, but the use of uppers slowly spread its tentacles, vitiating the entire system.

The real practitioners of sports medicine came into limelight much later. With sponsorship tickets becoming fatter and trickle of monies flowing into sports (especially in cricket) becoming a flood, the need to keep the players fit and running started becoming more and more important, which naturally brought in the specialists. “Sports medicine in not about treating injuries only” said one football coach who was once himself a national player, “it is more about enhancing the ability of the players to peak performance and help them to fend against probable injuries. With the game becoming more and more intense with every passing day, the players are pushing themselves to the limit, which in turn is making them more prone to injuries and it is here that sports medicine, with all its advancements, is coming into play a progressively bigger role. As a matter of fact, it is a lament of many a player of my generation that we did not have the kind of medical backup that players have today. If we had access to similar facilities, who knows, what effects it would have had on our abilities, achievements or the span of our careers?”

Specialists in sports medicine diagnose and treat medical conditions which regular exercisers or sports persons encounter. The majority of a sports medicine practitioner’s time is thus spent treating musculoskeletal injuries, though other conditions like sports cardiology issues, unexplained underperformance syndrome, exercise-induced asthma, screening for cardiac abnormalities and diabetes in sports are also areas of special interest. In addition sports physicians are often called in to play a role in performance medicine, whereby an athletes’ physiology is monitored, and aberrations corrected, in order to achieve peak physical performance.

However, it is not correct to restrict sports medicine only to the sporting arenas. For, it is a branch of medicine that deals with physical fitness and the treatment and prevention of injuries primarily, but not only, related to sports and exercise.

Sports medicine experts are increasingly being called in to promoting the therapeutic benefits of physical activity, exercise and sport for individuals and communities at large. This is being necessitated by the fact that people around the world are becoming sedentary as a result of which the numbers of those afflicted by ailments relating to and occurring as a direct result of a physically inactive lifestyle. Nations around the world are expressing growing concerns about economic cost of unsustainable health brought about by a sedentary lifestyle that feeds on inactivity, is fueled by junk food and is extremely stressful to boot. Naturally a plethora of diseases feed on such inputs, affectionately called the lifestyle diseases, the cost of which, if current trends are to be believed, is already spiraling out of control and may soon force many a nation to the brink.

Therefore, concepts like Exercise as a Health tool or Exercise is Medicine are becoming increasingly important and widely accepted as a precautionary measure, even as an antidote. Sports Medicine physicians are trained to evaluate medical patient’s co-morbidities, perform exercise testing and provide an exercise regimen, together with a motivational programme and exercise classes, which are often part of the cure, if not the cure itself.

“Sports medicine has already made the transition from the clinic to the sporting arenas and have earned a dedicated following not only among sportspersons but also among those in search of a healthy and active lifestyle. I for one will not be surprised, if we witness community groups taking the help of sports medicine as an insurance against ill health in greater and greater numbers in the near future. As a matter of fact, I personally feel that the Government should initiate steps towards this direction as healthy citizens do not only mean a happier nation, but also ensure a lesser financial strain on the entire health system.”

The piece was originally written for the Express Health Guide 2016