Assoc. Prof. Alexandre Lopes knows a thing or two about why injuries occur in athletes. The physical therapist and researcher worked at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on the International Olympic Committee Scientific and Medical Research group. He was part of a team that monitored athlete health to establish how and when injuries and illnesses occur. Whether you’re an athlete or casual gym-goer, Lopes has practical advice on strategies to reduce injuries.
For athletes, what is the number one thing they can do to avoid injuries?
They need to listen to their bodies. Every pain has a meaning. Runners, walkers or athletes should ignore the saying "no pain, no gain.” It is important to remember that in some cases, you can feel some soreness after physical activities. However, the pain that is persistent, more than 48 hours, should never be considered positive.
What type of injuries do you see most often?
There are two kinds of sports injuries. One is traumatic or acute injury, such as a fracture or ligament rupture, that is the result of a single event. The second type is overuse. As a running injury researcher, I have been seeing many overuse injuries. These are caused by the repetitive trauma to muscle fibers and tendons that overload musculoskeletal structures.
What common mistakes have you seen?
People take on too much, too soon and too fast! We need to give our body, our musculoskeletal system, time to adapt to the new workload produced by the sport or physical exercise.
For the average person who may be starting an exercise program, what advice do you have?
Please respect your body. Your body gives you advice on how to be free of injury. Start slow and avoid painful exercises.
What was the 2016 Rio Olympics like for you?
The Rio Olympics was an amazing experience. I've participated in four other Olympic games as a physical therapist, but Rio was my first experience as a researcher. During the games, my daily routine was to collect data with the National Olympic Committees in the athletes’ village. I visited the clinic that was equipped with x-ray rooms, MRI scanners and physical therapy rooms for athletes. I met many athletes and watched a diversity of sports events.