By Patience Lephogole
Becoming a team physician for professional athletes may seem like an outstanding opportunity, but there are many challenges that go along with the responsibility.
For sports physicians treating professional athletes, while the procedures are the same as what physicians do all day long, the stakes are higher when the patient is a professional athlete.
With a professional athlete, a regular treatment on a regular physician table is not always the best solution. Key for physicians treating athletes is an understanding of when to return the player safely back to the field.
There has to be a balance and this is especially true when athletes incur injuries such as an ACL tear or a concussion. The athlete might be able to still perform, but their ability is hindered and they are at risk of sustaining more serious and longer-lasting injuries.
“The stakes are extremely high. Injuries prevent athletes from participating in their sports. Sports medicine can help in improving performance. When treating professional athletes, orthopaedic and sports medicine physicians must make sure the athlete is healthy enough to return to play, while also understanding they want to get back as soon as possible,” Dr Lesedinyana Odiseng observed.
Dr Odiseng, who is a specialist in Sports and Exercise Medicine (including musculoskeletal medicine) and Occupational Medicine, said the biggest challenge in Botswana is the lack of understanding of what the contribution of a sports physician is.
“This applies to doctors and other health professionals. Quite often doctors keep patients treating them with archaic treatment protocol rather than referring,” he observed.
“Administrators, especially senior ones are even more ignorant on the topic. They often choose to go overseas and appoint unqualified individuals to look after our elite athletes,” he added.
Dr Odiseng gave a case in point at the last world championships in London. He said “Against my advice a chiropractor from the US and a Masseuse from the UK were the sole medical team when there are at least 20 qualified doctors in Botswana who would do a better job. Consequently Isaac Makwala was denied the opportunity to compete in his race.”
In an era of glory above everything in sports, Dr Odiseng highlighted that athletes’ welfare is sometimes ignored and physicians’ advices not followed.
“What’s even more frustrating is when athletes who have injuries are not referred for treatment until the injuries are chronic or are sent to see me a few weeks before a major competition.”
“Even after seeing them they are never referred for follow-up. Sometimes I identify modifiable problems with the athletes that have led to the injuries but my advice is never followed,” Dr Odiseng observed.
“The sporting fraternity is failing to establish a professional medical team that can look after athlete. As a result athletes in Botswana have poorer medical care than my 3 dogs while sports medicine professionals are available in this country,” he noted.
While sports medicine is a highly specialised field, Dr Odiseng further highlighted that unlike with regular physicians, people and clubs or sport codes in particular always expect sports physicians to offer free services.
“The other thing is that most sports clubs expect a free service. This is very tough for me as sports medicine is my only livelihood,” he said.
As his own contribution towards a better healthcare for athletes, Dr Odiseng said he tries to educate doctors about their roles when dealing with professional athletes.
“For the next few months I will be holding presentations around the country for doctors. I will be launching a website soon that should be accessible to all (HYPERLINK “http://www.mosoclinics.co.bw)”www.mosoclinics.co.bw).”
“With regard to senior sports administrators, I don’t think there is anything else I can do as I have engaged them on many occasions with joy. I even spoke to the previous minister of sports but nothing has come out of that,” he added.
He opined it is imperative that an athlete is in peak health condition before taking to the field.
“In Botswana I know of 4 athletes who died suddenly because they never had a Pre-Competition Medical Assessment to identify if they have risk factors. We have seen athletes being banned from sports because of doping violation. This is purely because of ignorance,” Dr Odiseng noted.
While he now avoids accompanying athletes to games, Dr Odiseng however said he is still keen to help.
Despite his advice not being taken into consideration by administrators at most of the times, Dr Odiseng is not yet ready to give up.
“I will be making an appointment to see the new Minister of Sports sometimes in the near future to discuss with him issues of sports medicine,” he concluded.