Note: This post is the next in a series of posts focusing on topics related to Olympic sports. For more discussion of injuries and topics related to athletes in this year’s Olympic Games, check out episode 49 of The Dr. David Geier Show. Also share your suggestions for topics related to the Summer Olympics below!
Traveling to another country can be one of the highlights of a young athlete’s career. It can also be a tremendous challenge. Injuries and medical emergencies are unfortunate in your hometown or your own country. Imagine how difficult it would be if these events occurred in a country where you did not speak the language or have easy access to healthcare.
Here are some steps that athletes and teams can take to better prepare for international travel.
Research the location of your competition. There is a huge difference between tournaments held in larger cities overseas and in rural towns. Larger cities are more likely to have hospitals close by and large medical staffs on site. More rural competitions may not have as comprehensive of medical coverage at the events. If you or your coaches know that there is limited access to medical coverage, consider bringing an athletic trainer or physician and more supplies and medications in the medical bags.
Bring your medical records. Keep a document that lists any pertinent medical conditions, history of injuries and surgeries, drug and environmental allergies, and medications. Keep a copy in your personal belongings, and make sure that your coach and traveling physicians or trainers have a copy as well.
Undergo a comprehensive pre-competition physical exam. See either your team doctor or your personal physician prior to traveling overseas for competition. Discuss any current medical illnesses and injuries. Also discuss any concerns and anxieties regarding the upcoming trip.
Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. Check with your physician to make sure you have had all of the routine vaccinations (you should do this as part of a healthy lifestyle normally). If you are traveling to a more remote or tropical destination, check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization to find out if any other vaccinations are recommended.
Prepare and bring an adequate medical supply kit. This is more of a recommendation for teams and coaches and their medical staff than individual athletes. Also a comprehensive list is beyond the scope of this post, although I might prepare one soon.
At a minimum, medical kits should contain gloves, supplies to clean lacerations and abrasions, dressings and bandage supplies, suture kits, and various types of tape. If it is feasible to travel with more equipment, medical devices, such as automatic external defibrillators, are ideal.
Bring any medications you might need. Plan ahead and check that you have enough of all of the medications you take regularly or as needed. It might be a good idea to even pack more than you think you might need. Also make sure that all medications are properly labeled to prevent any issues going through airports and customs.
Plan to arrive at your destination early. Expect travel delays. Give yourself several days to adjust to the time change, your accommodations, and local travel. Expect hassles such as lost luggage, missed flights, or problems with buses and cars to the hotels or competition sites.
Avoid traveler’s diarrhea. I know that is not a pleasing thought, but diarrhea can spread throughout a team fairly quickly. Fortunately some simple steps can minimize the chance of athletes getting sick. Regularly wash your hands. Thoroughly wash or avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables. Consider drinking bottled or purified water. Also check with your team doctor about bringing appropriate antibiotics to treat traveler’s diarrhea in case the illness develops among several of the players.
Prepare for jet lag. This is another tip that requires much more explanation than I can give in this post. In fact, it likely will be the In the Zone topic on Episode 50 of The Dr. David Geier Show. Having said that, you can gradually adjust to your destination’s time zone. Switch your sleeping and eating schedules to the new time zone days or even a week or two before the trip.
Avoid blood clots that can occur on long flights. If you know that the flight is more than three or four hours, consider wearing support stockings during the flight. Also get up and walk around the plane frequently during the flight. Walking will get the muscles moving. It will also prevent blood from pooling in the legs and potentially forming a clot.
Prepare for medical emergencies. This step is related to the first tip listed above in terms of researching the location. On top of knowing as much as possible about your destination, make sure that everyone on the team knows what to do and who to contact should emergencies arise.
Create a list of phone numbers of the coaches, team volunteers, team medical staff, and all players. Distribute that list to everyone. Also create a list of local hospitals with the locations and phone numbers. Include the contact information for tournament organizers. Create an action plan and spend some time with the entire group traveling to make sure everyone knows what to do before an emergency develops.
Do you have any other suggestions? Have you had any medical problems or injuries happen in foreign countries? Were you prepared? Share your suggestions or stories in the comments below!