The Winter Olympics | Physiotherapy Making a Difference

This year’s Olympic Winter Games was hosted in Beijing from 4 February through to 20 February. The Winter Olympics has always been a place of extraordinary stories and triumphant wins and this year is no exception! There were 2,871 athletes representing 91 teams that took part in 109 events split into 15 categories. With Haiti and Saudi Arabia making their Winter Olympic debut.

We also saw the famous team from Jamaica return to the games with Fenlator-Victorian from Jamaica competing in the first Monobob event but the story was not about a team from Jamaica the land of sun, sea and sand and Bob Marley competing in events involving snow and ice but the fact that the team would have to compete without the services of their physiotherapist.

Physiotherapists at the Winter Olympics

Physiotherapists are key at not only assessing and managing injuries but also in the prevention of injuries, often going above and beyond to keep their teams safe and on the road to victory. Not just their own teams! A Slovenian physio has been commended for her true Olympic spirit when she noticed a competing team from Norway had lost a key piece of rifle equipment in biathlon’s mixed team relay. She showed honour when she handed the missing piece to the team from Norway, who then went on to win Gold!

But apart from acting as superheroes what part do physiotherapists play in the Winter Games?

With a passion for sports, physiotherapists support athletes, in many ways, ensuring they can perform at the highest possible level.  The common goal is taking home a medal. Physiotherapists are there to support all the athletes and each other.

I always try to start out with some type of goal. Then I work backward and think of what I need to do to get there, and give myself smaller goals that are more immediate. — Kristi Yamaguchi

A physiotherapists job often starts before the teams have been selected – they work with individuals focusing on injury prevention as well as treating injuries and speeding up recovery after an injury!

Taking part in the Winter Olympics means there is a risk of more traumatic injuries than at the summer games. This is due to the very specific challenges involved in the wide range of events – high speed, high force and pushing beyond their boundaries during training and competition.

Athletes work hard and train hard and a physiotherapist can see injuries from head to toe (literally);  their interventions vary but could include:

Exercise prescription
• Treatments to help with soft tissue healing
Joint manipulation
Cryotherapy, heat therapy and electrotherapy

So What Next?

As competitors head home, with some wins and some losses it’s time to assess their performances and look at their future plans. For some this would have been their last Olympics, for others, it will be a short rest before resuming their training for other competitions and working towards a place at the next Winter Olympics in Italy in 2026.

For those with a passion for winter sports, there is no need to wait until 2024 next up is the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing from 4 March to 13 March. You can read more about the history of the Paralympic Winter Games and the events you can expect to see.