Due to the unique methods of examination specifically developed for current and future champions, the Head of the Swiss Olympic Medical Center Dr. Andreas Gosele and his colleagues can in a timely manner reveal what is hidden, foresee and prevent problems thus giving an impetus to new sports achievements and at times even saving sport careers.
The Swiss Olympic Medical Center, based at the Merian Iselin Clinic in Basel, having the members of Swiss national cycling and athletics teams among its regular patients, knows that, for achievements and victories, every nuance of the athlete’s health is crucial. Not only an overlooked minor injury but simply a body’s «weak point» might lead to serious health problems.
– Dr. Gosele, why is it so important for professional athletes to undergo a complete check-up?
– A check-up provides accurate information about the state of health and the capacity for achievement. Of course it is important, especially since such a check-up is preventive and helps also to identify future problems with the locomotive apparatus, various organs, the cardio-vascular system, and cardiac pathologies, as cases of sudden death among sportsmen are well known.
Patients (for example, young footballers) often come to us complaining about their poor results and performance. And if we perform a thorough check-up, let’s say of the pelvis or thighs, we will most likely find the source of their problems. With professional loads, even the slightest abnormality may lead to serious consequences, including the end of a career or even arthrosis, with time. A typical example: I used to engage in athletics. When I was 18 or 19 I felt a strange joint pain and went to a doctor. The problem, though, was not identified, as little was known about it at that time. If it hadn’t been for this, I probably wouldn’t have left professional sports and I wouldn’t have arthrosis now.
– What does a check-up involve for sportsmen?
– Actually, it is a «head-to-toe» examination. We do electrocardiography, echocardiography or heart ultrasound (depending on the kind of sport), and blood tests; measure height, weight, pressure, pulse, and specific fat content; do extensive laboratory tests, etc. The collected data provide a general picture and we draw conclusions on the athlete’s strengths and capabilities.
Lately, we have expanded our approach. If earlier we focused on the specifics of this or that kind of sport – a cyclist underwent a cycling test, a rower was tested on a rowing simulator – today we perform several check-ups with the key objective of examining the body as a whole. We check the coordination and the ability to control one’s body – the types of check-up that are so important when it comes to injuries. And if we find a problem, we immediately offer the optimum treatment – physical therapy or special training.
– Are your patients mostly professional sportsmen?
– Yes. We cooperate with the national athletics and cycling teams and are therefore aware of the specifics of these kinds of sports and the possible problems associated with them. We have even developed a package of services for such sportsmen in addition to our basic package. There is a mobile laboratory to examine a patient during running or walking, high speed 3D cameras, and a biochemical department responsible only for cyclists.
We do not treat sportsmen engaged in winter sports (except figure skating) during training, but accept them for diagnostics and treatment, as we have good diagnostics facilities. We also accept footballers and tennis players, and even arrange tennis tournaments. But the main focus is on sprinters, figure skaters, athletes, and cyclists. Moreover, we are on good terms with some ballet dancers…
We also service amateurs. For example, some years ago we, together with a clinic that specializes in rehabilitation, developed a program to train patients with rheumatologic diseases. The purpose was their taking part in the Berlin marathon. The results were rather interesting. Many of the program’s participants reduced their daily intake of drugs and some even discontinued the use of drugs. The number of complaints decreased and as a result all of them took part in the marathon. Some even stayed in the sport.
Another group of patients includes people called Life Style Intervention. They usually say, «Everything is ok, my children have grown up, and now I want to change something in my life,» and decide to go in for sport. We examine such patients, do performance evaluation tests, develop training programs and support them on their way to their achievements. Interestingly, many of them are pensioners.
Another group is comprised of people who are at the peak of their professional activities and many hold high positions. They generally set the bar high, wishing to achieve the same goals in sport as they have already attained in their careers. But here, caution is needed: fast results may lead to problems. Our task is to correctly determine the initial position and to develop a training program. Results must be achieved without any health damage.
– And what would you recommend to those who go running or speed-walking exclusively for health purposes?
– We have the research of Scandinavian neurologists to prove that we need to reconsider our former vision of amateur sport and to train with maximum intensity. Speed up as fast as you can, then slow down, then speed up again and so on. This method is called «high intensity training» and is intended both for professionals and for ordinary people, but training must be under the supervision of specialists.
Targets can be achieved if you set higher goals. You regularly run a circuit, you are fit and you like it, but you see no progress? Do what ants do: speed up when walking, and then jump slightly. Every time run a longer distance. Set as many obstacles as you can.
– Should patients provide any documents? How long are they supposed to stay for a complete check-up or possibly for treatment?
– Of course it is always useful to have full information. That is why, if patients have already undergone any tests and any diseases have been revealed, it would be good to know the details. A medical card with examination and test results is generally enough. However, it is better to repeat the tests so that we can compare the results. All tests are done in one day, so a patient can come in the evening, but if special tests are required, for example for viruses or intolerance to certain drugs, they may take up to one week. We can discuss everything beforehand via Skype or Face Time. This is especially convenient for those who come from other countries or cities.
– Can it be that a sportsman comes together with his trainer or personal physician? Does it make your work easier or more complicated?
– Of course, it is an advantage. Such dialogues are often very productive, as we can develop a checkup and treatment plan together. I’m glad if sportsmen are accompanied by their trainers. It is good when a therapist is present during the check-up. My experience in sports medicine (25 years in total) shows that cooperation, partnership, and discussion are very important. But the focus is on the patient. And that’s the main thing.
Doctor of Medicine, Sports Medicine Department of the Merian Iselin Clinic, studied and had his internship at the Freiburg University, Liestal Canton Hospital, and the sports clinic Praxisklinik Rennbahn in Muttenz. Specialization: prevention, diagnostics, and treatment of sports injuries. He headed Praxisklinik Rennbahn and founded the Swiss Olympic Medical Center Crossklinik.
Dr. Gosele was a physician to the Swiss national team at the Olympics in Sidney, Athens, Turin, Beijing, and Vancouver. Since 1996, he has been head physician at the Swiss Athletics Federation. Dr. Gosele has worked at the health service of the Cervelo TestTeam, Leopard Trek, and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek cycling teams, and is currently a physician for Trek Factory Racing.
He teaches at the Institute of Exercise and Health Sciences at the University of Basel.