Becoming a Team Doctor


There were so many great things about going to the weightlifting world championships.  There was a great deal of hoisting of heavy weights and I got to sit behind Apti for thirty minutes while he watched the 94A group.  There were spectacular graphics and they played Sandstorm between sessions.  It sort of felt like a rave with barbells.

But a funny thing happened that I didn’t expect.  While I was sitting there at the beginning of each session, they introduced the judges, the jury panel, the timekeeper, the marshall, the janitor (ok, maybe not the janitor) and the……… doctor?!?

Yes! So there is an official session doctor at major competitions.  Who knew?

There is also, as one might more reasonably have expected, a doctor that ministers to Team USA when they travel and doctors that go to national competitions here in the states.

Ironically(ish) the Two Doctors were commenting on this session and I ran to the back to find them and ask them if they knew anything about this magical opportunity.  They put me in touch with someone at Team USA and I ended up spending a little time talking to the sports medicine doc that is in charge of America’s strongest team’s health.

Now I am not a sports medicine person by training.  Sports medicine doctors tend to take care of the minimally to moderately injured athlete.  I’m the one who takes care of the maximally injured.  They recognize the spleen injury on the football field, but they bring the player to me to fix it.

Conversely, they are amazingly nuanced when it comes to musculoskeletal injuries.  How do I know this?  Because in order to start volunteering for meets, I had to go to an introductory sports medicine conference.

It was an absolute blast!

Four days of lectures and hands on break out groups where we covered the exam and treatment of injured athletes, in this conference focusing a lot on the upper extremity, head and neck.

The shoulder.  Dear G-d, the shoulder.

There are so many moving parts in the shoulder.  And all of them are important.  All.  Of.  Them.  Did you know your arm isn’t actually attached to your body via the skeleton?  It’s really like a golf ball sitting on a tiny tee with an enormous number of tiny muscles keeping the two in contact.  Your arm just kind of hangs off your body by a muscular sling.  Radical, huh?

Because this was a general sports medicine conference, the lecturers kept saying things like “well, for overhead athletes, like tennis players and javelin throwers….” and I kept thinking a) what are those? Do they snatch? and b) what about the people who put multiple hundreds of pounds overhead?

Little tears in those little structures (your shoulder labrum is about the size and thickness of a rubber band) can put a serious damper on overhead stability, whether from pain or actual muscular support.

But one of the biggest take home points for me was not about injury, but about the nature of being a sports medicine doctor.  The number one reason to see the team doc?  Upper respiratory infections.  Just because your patient is Hercules, doesn’t mean they don’t get colds that can be worrisome for performance.  Or urinary tract infections.  Or staph infections.  And what you treat them with has to be carefully considered if they are subject to WADA testing.  Common cold medicines can light up a drug test like a Christmas tree.

So I am now on the road to hopefully being able to give back to my community in a meaningful way by volunteering at weightlifting meets and maybe someday for USAWeightlifting.  I also took and passed the local referee course so I can contribute in that way as well.  Either way, those are some of the most awesome seats in the house and a spectacular way to meet the heroes of this amazing sport.

But I’m going to have nightmares about shoulder anatomy for a bit.  Just saying.

For a doctor or therapist who understands your issues as a lifter, check out, a database of medical provider athletes all over the country.

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2 Responses to “Becoming a Team Doctor”

  1. LjFebruary 17, 2016 at 5:05 PM #

    You are right on. I was asked recently if I’ve considered being part of the medical team, as an RN. I would love to assist and travel. I will talk to Our team doctor, when I see him. He put my face back together at the MWG in Australia, when my 71 kg CJ bounced up off the platform and hit me between the eyes. It was a record, and all I remember was the jerk, the cheers going from YEAHHHHHHH to AWWWWWWWWW. Then holding my face and seeing blood. So lucky it wasn’t my teeth. Marc said I’ll super glue your face, and you will be ready for the awards. So I said, yes. I trust you. Then after that week, went diving at the Great Barrier Reef, hearing, da da, da da, dadadadadadadadadada thinking a great white would smell the wound and bite me in half. Well it didn’t happen and if you are accepted I applaude USAW for bringing more great women onto the greatest Team USA!!!! In strength, LJ

  2. George FluterMarch 8, 2016 at 8:22 PM #

    Good luck! I’m sure that it would be a great experience working with the weightlifters. From your post, I gather that you took the ACSM Team Physician course. I took both parts about 20 years ago, but I’m sure that a lot of the basics are the same. Congratulations on becoming an LWC referee, too. Hope you plan to move up the ranks as you gain more experience.

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