A Sharapova Moment

The world of sports medicine is never boring, but who knew things could get this interesting?

In the first weeks of March, there have been at least two major stories that have transcended the borders of ‘sports medicine’ and become topics of debate for the world at large — I speak of the proposed ban on tackling in schoolboy rugby (and the continued debate on tackling in American football) and Maria Sharapova’s admission that she failed a drug test at the recent Australian Open.  For both stories, the boundaries of the discussion have gone well beyond the lines of the playing fields and the walls of the academy.

Social media has seen these topics trending. The mainstream media have been profiling the issues as well.  The Economist weighed in on the debate about tackling. And this morning I found the New York Times prominently featuring Ms. Sharapova’s story, including articles on the drug meldonium [for which Sharapova tested positive] and on the issue of the World Anti-doping Agency’s (WADA) use of emails to notify individuals about changes on WADA’s banned substance list.

Many people have an opinion on the subjects.   We’ve been running a poll on this blog regarding the issue of tackling, while our friends at the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) have been running a Twitter poll on the Sharapova issue: who is responsible, the player or her support staff [currently the poll is 74%/26% stating it’s the athlete’s responsibility].

In the New York Times article and in the BBC, former WADA-president Dick Pound has stated his opinion that Sharapova’s failed drug test was ‘reckless beyond description.’

I must say I take issue with this and empathize with Ms. Sharapova, who stated that she received in December the WADA email noting that meldonium was now on the banned substance list, but “…I did not look at that list.”  Meldonium was a PED legal until 2016, when it was placed on the ‘banned substances list.’ As a professional inundated with emails, alerts, pronouncements, and more, I confess to a certain degree of information overload even when it comes even to items vital to my licensure and ability to practice.  Have I ever received an email from the Medical Board that I have deleted?  Have I ever received notification from my hospital staff office of some new change in policy which I glossed over?  Yes and yes.

Regarding the WADA emails, other athletes in the NY Times article have offered this opinion: “Some dismissed the messages as irrelevant to their own regimens or too complicated to be useful.”  That certainly resonates with me and my professional world.

I am not writing this to absolve Ms. Sharapova, and I applaud her for her prompt and open admission of personal responsibility. That stance is right and proper.  But I would hardly deem her action “reckless beyond description.”

In CJSM we have published over the years several studies on banned substances. One of the pieces of original research just published in our March CJSM sheds some further light on this issue, I think: Dietary Supplements: Knowledge and Adverse Event Reporting Among American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Physicians.  Read more of this post

Team Physician Consensus Statement: 2013 Update

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Nationwide Children’s Hospital Staff Physicians and ATCs
in “the Horseshoe” at the Ohio State University, prior to game.

Earlier this week, several sports medicine organizations released a statement with which all sports medicine clinicians should familiarize themselves:  the “Team Physician Consensus Statement:  2013 Update.”

The Statement represents, in its own words, “…an ongoing project-based alliance” of the major professional associations associated with sports medicine  in the United States.  These include the American Academy of FamilyPhysicians (AAFP), the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgons (AAOS), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine (AOASM), and this journal’s affiliated professional group, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM).

This is an update of a statement first published in 2000.  It includes sections which define the role of ‘team physician’;  describe the requisite education and qualifications; enumerate the medical and adminstrative duties and responsibilities; and explore the relevant ethical and medicolegal issues.

The entire statement is worth a read, but I find the ‘ethical issues’ section most interesting.  Read more of this post

Pre-game intravenous hyperhydration, anyone?

The editorial in this month’s CJSM by Coombes and colleagues on Intravenous Rehydration in the National Football League highlights the widespread prevalence of the practice of pre-game hyperhydration as reported in the study by Fitzsimmons and colleagues, also in this month’s Journal here .

Fitzsimmons and colleagues surveyed the head athletic trainers of 32 NFL teams using an online survey tool and managed to achieve an impressive 100% response rate. They found that 75% of all teams had used pre-game hyperhydration with iv fluids, with an average of 5 to 7 players per team per game receiving intravenous fluids prior to play. The most common reasons for this strategy cited by trainers were to prevent muscle cramps (23 out of 24), prevent dehydration (19), at the request of the player (17), to prevent heat illness (14), and to improve player exercise tolerance (8).

It is somewhat alarming to find out that this practice is so widespread, especially in view of the fact that iv fluid administration pre-competition and intra-competition is clearly prohibited under the prohibited methods category of the 2011 WADA anti-doping code , and as discussed by Coombes and colleagues, it will be interesting to see how WADA and the NFL react to the results of this study.

An additional point to note, again as highlighted by Coombes and colleagues, is that there is practically no evidence that pre-game hyperhydration actually achieves any of the desired outcomes cited by trainers.

This study highlights yet another example of a dubious and potentially dangerous practice being adopted by elite teams in the absence of evidence of effectiveness of the intervention to achieve desired outcomes.

One wonders why such widespread practice is allowed to occur without action being taken against individual Clubs and players engaging in the use of these methods, or why the practice is not specifically banned under the code of the NFL.

Surely now is the time for a formal investigation into this issue?

CJSM would like to hear your views.

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