Injury surveillance, the Olympic way


As the 2012 London Olympic Games begin, so does one of the most intense injury surveillance activities.  Polyclinics around the Olympic Village and competition sites are providing medical and allied health support to inured athletes, officials and members of the Olympic family. When they do so, they also contribute to the largest medical coverage surveillance system yet implemented at the Games. The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Medical Commission has spent considerable effort in developing an injury surveillance approach which is appropriate for the constraints of a very intensive, time limited sport event where musculoskeletal injury is not uncommon.

An editorial in the June 2012, Volume 46(7) issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine discusses that injury surveillance will also be applied during the 2012 Paralympics Games. The IOC’s efforts in developing an injury surveillance system during very large scale, international sporting events do not just stay with the Olympics.  In the same issue, Alonso et al describe their implementation of the IOC surveillance approach to the Daegu 2011 International Association of Athletics Federations Championships. This study highlights two of the current limitations of the surveillance systems developed for intense sporting competitions: (1) that the quality and completeness of the injury records are not reported and (2) the definition of injury used may lead to under reporting of all conditions likely to impact on athlete well being and performance.

Two other papers in this issue of the BJSM provide reviews of injuries sustained by tennis players and taekwondo athletes.  Both articles argue for the need for better surveillance of injuries, especially in elite athletes, and suggest that a standardized approach be developed.  Both sports feature highly in the 2012 Games and so will be contribute to the injury surveillance currently underway in London.  Perhaps lessons from London will be able to guide ongoing injury surveillance in these two sports, and others, adding this to the legacy of those games.

Injury surveillance during athletic events, like the Olympics, has features that are different to surveillance systems in other settings.  Most notably: the limited time span for data collection; the intense number of records to be collected and processed very quickly; the vast array of people, with different professional backgrounds, involved in the same data recording process; the very large number of different specific settings in which the injuries occur (e.g. canoeing vs. tennis vs. taekwondo); the very low level of severe injuries, with most being minor to moderate musculoskeletal conditions; the intense media and public scrutiny of injuries when the athletes fail to meet their performance goals.  Many sports injury surveillance systems have evolved to make the most of these circumstances. Nonetheless, they could probably benefit from additional rigor and refinement of processes.

I’d be interested to hear from other injury surveillance experts for your ideas about how we might be able to do some things better.

Caroline Finch is an injury prevention researcher from the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP) within the Monash Injury Research Centre, Monash University, Australia.  She specialises in both injury surveillance and implementation and dissemination science applications for sports injury prevention.  She is the Senior Associate Editor for Implementation & Dissemination for the British Journal of Sports Medicine and a member of the Editorial Board of Injury Prevention; both journals are published by the BMJ Group.  Caroline can be followed on Twitter @CarolineFinch

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