Olympic Finale

Olympic spectators are now either counting medals or complaining about biased judging. We have just witnessed an international sports festival where countries display their best athletes. The Olympics are often about the stories surrounding the sport.

Water polo is an unheralded sport consisting of seven athletes on each team competing in a 30- by 20-meter pool. Players must toss a ball past the opposing team’s goalie. The pool is 10 feet deep and players must be either swimming or treading water the entire time. Defending players can do almost anything to avoid a goal. It is a mixture of basketball and roller derby.

These athletes are among the most fit because of the need for both upper and lower body strength, with tremendous aerobic capacity. The injuries vary between those seen in overuse (hip, knee, and shoulder) and in a physical assault (scratches and facial trauma). Water polo matches are interesting to watch, yet demand excellent conditioning before participating.

Dara Torres, Jason Kidd and Jeff Hartwig are among the many American Olympians over 35 years old. Advances in sports medicine, including more efficient training techniques as well as improved surgical and non-surgical treatments for injuries, have played a huge role in making this possible at all levels of sports.

Siblings participating in the same Olympic sport always capture attention. This year the Lopez family led the way, with Jean Lopez coaching his three younger siblings, Steven, Mark, and Diana, in the sport of taekwondo. Several pairs teams consist of identical twins.

Parenting elite athletes should be an Olympic sport in itself. Parents must deal with domestic peace and the delicate balance of sibling rivalry at an Olympic level. They are truly deserving of their own gold medals.

The 2008 Olympics have provided an opportunity for the world to put differences aside and enjoy outstanding athletic performances. True sports fans know it’s not about the medals.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is a member of the Backus Hospital Medical Staff and a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dr. Alessi at aalessi@wwbh.org.

Phelps story offers hope for children with ADHD

As the 2008 Olympic Games draw to a close, one story has attracted the attention of the world. It is about a young boy born with oversized hands and feet, the wingspan of a condor, and misshapen ears.

At age nine he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Yet he has become arguably the greatest athlete in the world. The story of Michael Phelps epitomizes the ability to turn a potential tragedy into victory.

Athletes must make critical decisions regarding their careers, training, and nutrition. The parents of young athletes make many of these decisions. Deborah Phelps made a parental decision to have her son channel his energy into the sport of swimming and the rest is history.

Dr. Alnoor Ramji is a psychiatrist in Norwich who treats many children and adults with ADHD. He believes that establishing a structured environment is the most important element for successful treatment.

“The problem with setting up an orderly regimen for a child is that often the parent who must oversee the process also has ADHD and things fall apart,” Ramji said.

Structure is crucial since ADHD patients are easily distracted and frustrated. Many adults realize they too suffer from ADHD only after their child is diagnosed. There is a strong genetic linkage.

Stimulant medications like Ritalin are also an important part of treatment. The need for medication is optional in milder cases. Typically, the hyperactive component of ADHD improves at approximately 22 years of age.

Sports are strongly encouraged since they require discipline and provide an essential outlet. Sports involving a singular focus like swimming, martial arts, and running are ideal. Sports that require divided attention like football, basketball, and soccer are more challenging and often result in frustration.

This story is a reminder that when both parents and children are committed to a specific task, many obstacles can be overcome and success in sports and life attained.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at aalessi@wwbh.org, listen to his podcasts or go to the Healthy Sports blog at backushospital.org.

Martial arts have mental and physical health benefits

Although there are many forms of martial arts, only two -- taekwondo and judo -- have been chosen for Olympic competition. They were natural choices since they represent completely different skills and have the most internationally standardized regulations.

Taekwondo originated in Korea and is a “striking” form of combat. The moves consist of rapid, crisp strikes of the feet and fists against an opponent. Taekwondo emphasizes the use of the lower extremities. The mental and physical aspects of this sport blend together when an athlete attempts to break several boards.

Participants are attracted to the ability to develop speed, strength, balance, and stamina. Many professional athletes use taekwondo as a training tool for their primary sport.

Judo is a Japanese martial art and focuses on “grappling” as opposed to striking maneuvers. The object is to overcome an opponent by locking a major joint or applying a chokehold.

Judo was first introduced in Brazil in 1914. Carlos Gracie utilized these skills and developed Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is commonly used in mixed martial arts or the now popular ultimate fighting.

While martial arts get international attention during the summer Olympics, it’s popular locally as well. Peter Rogers of Baltic, a martial arts instructor for 42 years, teaches many local mixed martial arts fighters in a form called KOBA, a combination of Korean, Okinawan, Burmese, and American martial arts. Incorporating these different skills adds to the versatility of each combatant and makes the workouts more intense.

Typical injuries in all martial arts involve muscle sprains, contusions, dislocations, and fractures. Chronic nerve damage can be seen in the hand used repeatedly to break boards or cinder blocks. Grappling sports render participants more prone to joint injuries. The most serious injuries are neurologic in origin and involve the spine and brain.

Many find the combination of meditative exercise with a physical workout the most attractive feature of martial arts. The health benefits as well as the ability to defend oneself if attacked certainly will add to a participant’s longevity.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. You can listen to his podcasts or comment on his blog at backushospital.org, or email him at aalessi@wwbh.org.

Kayaking attracting attention internationally and here at home

With the Summer Olympics beginning this week, I continue my focus on the training and fitness of athletes participating in the international competition.

As the algae begins to clear in Bejing, boating events are attracting a lot of attention.

Boating sports include kayaking, canoeing and rowing. All require tremendous stamina and strength. Both aerobic and resistive training are imperative to compete in these events at a high level.

Rowing includes races with one, two, four, or eight rowers. Coordination is crucial among the rowers to achieve maximum speed. A coxswain is responsible for steering and managing an eight-person boat. The Olympic level races are short, sprint events.

Rowers are positioned with their backs to the front of the boat. They sit on seats that slide and their feet are secured to the boat. The motion involved requires utilizing many muscles including those in the upper and lower extremities and the torso. Since it requires the use of many large muscles, an efficient aerobic workout can be attained in a short period of time.

Typical injuries involve the spine due to repetitive flexion and extension against resistance. Stress fractures and muscular injuries involving the ribs are also common.

Olympic canoeing and kayaking consists of 16 different events on both flat water and whitewater. Racing is both sprint and slalom. Canoeists typically kneel and use a single-bladed paddle while kayakers sit and use a double- bladed paddle.

These sports primarily utilize the upper extremities. Shoulder injuries and repetitive use injuries to the hands are most common.

Many communities have started local rowing and kayaking programs. Norwich is no exception.

Louis Depina is director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Norwich where a program has been established with the Chelsea Boat Club.

“All participants must review a safety video, pass a swim test and a dry test of their boating skills before being allowed on the water,” Depina said.

Rowing and kayaking lessons are available. A steady group of 25 will go out 2-3 times per week. They range in age from teens to over 70 years old.

Information regarding this program can be obtained by calling the Norwich Parks and Recreation Department at 860-823-3791 or logging on to chelseaboatclub.org

Programs like this will hopefully foster future Olympians, but a consistent enjoyable workout is a good alternative.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. You can email Alessi at aalessi@wwbh.org, listen to his podcast or comment on his blog at backushospital.org.

Off-Road biking is getting international attention

In preparation for the Summer Olympics, I will be spending the next several weeks looking at some lesser-known Olympic sports. Specifically, how these athletes train and the injuries they face.

Off-road biking, often called mountain biking, has steadily grown in popularity over the past 25 years. Cycling in general is on a dramatic upswing since the price of gas has risen.

There are over 60,000 competitive male and female riders in the United States ranging in age from 5-80. The inclusive nature of this sport makes it attractive to families and social for those looking to meet other health-minded people.

Zane’s Cycles of Branford, Connecticut is the world’s largest dealer of Trek bicycles and offers entry-level equipment, including a fully equipped bike and helmet, for approximately $450.

The international flavor of off-road biking is exemplified by the fact that it has become a sanctioned Olympic sport.

The USA Cycling/Mountain Bike National Championships were held this month at Mount Snow, Vermont. Over 2,000 riders from throughout the United States qualified for what has been described as the “Super Bowl of off-road cycling.”

Nicholas Girard of Glens Falls, New York is 19 and has been competing for four years. He became involved after visiting a local bike shop and seeing a video about the sport. He is now at the expert level and hoping to move up to the pro level. During his off-season, which extends from November to May, he spends time working out in the gym. He primarily lifts weights to improve leg, shoulder, and core muscle strength.

Heather Irmiger, a 29-year-old professional rider from Boulder, Colorado, has been competing for 11years. Irminger would like to see more women involved in competitive cycling.

“There are women-only programs to introduce people to the sport but none of these address women’s competition,” Irminger said.

The principal injuries in this sport involve the shoulder. They include shoulder dislocation, fractures, and torn rotator cuff. Concussions are rare thanks to newly designed, lightweight helmets.

The Olympic competition will be a cross-country event involving steep inclines, dramatic descents, and many jumps extending over a 20-25 mile course. The length of the course depends on the difficulty of the terrain.

Cycling has come a long way since the Schwinn cruiser, but participation in any form will lead to improved health and longevity. Fun is just an added benefit.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at aalessi@wwbh.org. If you wish to learn more about sports health topics, listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at backushospital.org.