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Olympic “body shop” boosts Halifax hopefuls' medal chances in Athens
Olympic Competitors Share Their Body Care Tips

HALIFAX, NS – July 16, 2004 – Halifax's top Olympic hopefuls are doing more than train in the handful of weeks left before the start of the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. They are also checking in with the Olympic “body shop” – a team of specialized health professionals – to ensure optimal physical and psychological performance.

“Our health care team is as important to our performance as our coaches and trainers,” says Karen Furneaux, a world-class Halifax kayaker who will compete on the Canadian team in Athens this August. “It's about more than injury prevention and treatment. Our bodies are our most important instrument and the health care team helps ensure we are functioning at our best both mentally and physically. We think of them as our body shop.”

One of the newest additions to the Olympic body shop is chiropractic care. It officially became part of core health care services for Canadian athletes at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Physiotherapists, athletic therapists, massage therapists and physicians round out the Canadian health care team at events such as the Olympics, Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games. Sports psychology has also become an important part of an athlete's program, but has yet to be included in the core health team.

Chiropractic care works on optimizing biomechanical function to give an athlete the best opportunity to achieve a peak performance. This includes focusing on two main areas: muscle function and joint function.

“I include chiropractic as part of my health care regimen both off-season and during intensive training periods to enhance my joint and muscle function,” says Furneaux. “Sprint kayakers and canoeists place a lot of stress on the upper and lower back as well as the shoulders. It's essential to have good range of motion with no restrictions to perform at my best.”

“Chiropractic is an essential part of a paddler's athletic training,” said Mike Scarola, a C-2 canoeist (canoe doubles) who will be competing with his fellow Halifax partner Richard Dalton in Athens. “For me, it improved muscle function in my shoulders and lower back and has helped prevent injury.

“Muscles and joints are connected and should work together in balance at all times,” says Dr. Brian Seaman, a Halifax chiropractor with a specialty in sports injuries who works with a number of Canada's sprint canoe and kayak athletes.

“Once you have the muscles and joints working in harmony and at optimal levels, you can focus on preventative stretching techniques and sport-specific exercises to maintain high function levels.” Seaman was a member of Canada's health care team at the 1999 Pan American Games and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He is also a member of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee of Canadian Sports Centre Atlantic.

Seaman will examine the range of motion of a particular joint and perform a series of orthopedic, neurological and chiropractic specific tests to evaluate how the joint is functioning. When a problem area is identified, adjustment techniques are used to improve the joint mobility and correct the restrictions.

Similarly, muscle injuries contribute to limitations in range of motion, decreased strength and overall function. Increasingly, chiropractic is playing a key role in this kind of injury management with such techniques as myofascial therapy which minimizes adhesions in the muscle caused by scar tissue.

“Canada's elite amateur athletes are highly attuned to their bodies and notice even slight changes in function,” says Dr. Seaman. “Even small restrictions in joint and muscle function may make a difference when winning is sometimes determined by fractions of a second.”

Many of the techniques that are used by Olympic-level athletes can be applied to recreational athletes and “weekend warriors.” Here are some tips from the ‘body shop'.

1. Have an Annual Physical Check-Up – Overall health is important to sports performance. An annual physical will identify areas of concern and a plan of action to keep your most important piece of equipment – your body – in good condition.
2. Warm-up – Before jumping in the pool, hitting the baseball or softball field, or picking up a golf club, athletes should take a full 20 minutes - no less - to warm-up, which includes stretching to loosen the muscles and joints, and even relaxation techniques to get focused.
3. Proper Technique – Learn the right technique for your sport from the beginning. Using the wrong sport-specific technique will cause incorrect muscle memory that can make it difficult to break bad habits. Poor technique can also cause injury to your joints and muscles.
4. The Right Equipment – Ensure that equipment is the right fit, height and capacity for you to avoid sport-specific injury. Recreational athletes should have their equipment professionally fitted and checked before starting a sporting season.
5. Too Much, Too Soon, Too Fast – Overtraining is one of the most common causes of recreational athletic injury. Take your time and get used to a sport before pushing yourself too hard.
6. Get in Tune with Your Body. – Learn to recognize the difference between common post-exercise muscle soreness and pain that may be injury-related. Getting prompt treatment for pain can prevent an injury from becoming worse.
7. Stay Hydrated – Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after physical activity - especially during warm weather. Remember that once you are thirsty you are already starting to dehydrate.
8. Maintain Your Body – Eat properly, maintain a healthy weight, get a good night's sleep. It will show in your sports performance and your overall health.
9. Check Your Attitude – Not every elite athlete brings home a medal, but they are all winners. The right attitude is good for your health and your performance.
10. Treat Your Injuries Correctly – If you injure your bone or joints then be sure to ice the area and consult with your sports medicine professional. Sports chiropractors commonly examine and treat the various strains and sprains that can occur as a result of athletic endeavours.

“Recreational athletes are not all that different from Olympic-level athletes in terms of how to avoid injury and perform at their best,” adds Dr. Seaman. “The same basic principles should be applied, because we don't want our ‘rec' athletes to become ‘wrecked' athletes.”
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