No Sports Medicos: Indian athletes left in the lurch

  • India lacks sufficient sports doctors and sports medicine is yet to get its due.
  • India couldn’t send sports doctors for the 2016 Rio Olympics and only one for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
  • Unlike India, the sports industry in developed nations like the US, the UK, Australia is a billion-dollar industry and they could not afford to put their athletes away from the ground for a longer period.

Injuries of athletes are common and often witnessed during any sports event, practice or in any other such related scenario. But unlike India, in other countries, they recover faster and will be back on the track soon. Unfortunately, Indian athletes always suffer when it comes to getting timely help from the team doctor.

How could you get help when you don’t have one? India lacks sufficient sports doctors and hence we could not send sports doctors in the 2016 Rio Olympics and only one for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Sports medicine which is one of the major factors that can decide an athlete’s performance is yet to get its due importance in India. Athletes who get injured while in action should undergo treatment and should recover fast or else they might miss their chances. 

“Sometimes for major injuries, surgery will be unavoidable and it might take a longer period to get cured, say six months. But with the help of sports physicians they could recover faster”, says Kerala based Dr Sidharth Unnithan, Chief Medical Director (sports medicine physician), Sanjeevini Life Care Village. 

Sports medicine is a stream of medicine that deals with the treatment of injuries, performance enhancement and rehabilitation related to sports and exercises. Though it’s in a budding stage in India, the field is well developed in other countries with specialised concepts like pediatric sports medicine, sports cardiology etc, Dr Sidharth points out.

“For developed nations like the US, UK, Australia etc, sports is a billion-dollar industry and the corporates are highly interested in investing money in sports. Thus, the sportspersons cannot afford to spend too much time getting cured for their injuries for a longer period as they need to come back to the ground as soon as possible or else it may affect their individual and teams’ performance. Even the corporates also need athletes’ speedy recovery as they invest a lot of money in them.”

What causes the dearth of doctors specialised in sports medicine?

In India there are not enough centres offering sports medicine as a proper course, points out Dr Vinod Kumar P, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon (specialised in sports medicine), Aster Medcity, Kochi.

“For actual training, we need to have more universities and colleges that offer sports medicine as a professional training programme if we need this industry to flourish. But the truth is only five or six get specialised in sports medicine, a year which is nowhere near to sufficient number.”

Though a postgraduate diploma in sports medicine was introduced in Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala in 1983, it took 27 years to get a post-graduate course for the same. Hence, it would not be wrong to say that sports medicine in India is fairly a new concept which the country is yet to get used to.

Besides, lack of awareness and investment is a big bottleneck, Dr Vinod says. “Athletes, coaches and people are yet to be aware of the benefits of sports medicine. For instance, here, if a footballer gets his knee injured, he goes to a general practitioner first and by the time he reaches a sports doctor, it would be too late. This situation could be avoided if enough awareness is created on sports medicine.”

While treating an athlete, a sports doctor will be the head of the team and under him, there will be sports physio, sports nutritionist, sports psychologists etc to help him as well as the athletes. And if the injury is too severe and requires surgery, sports doctors refer the matter to surgeons concerned and after which they will get back to the sports doctors under whose guidance the athlete will have a faster recovery. 

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