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Researcher Headed to Winter Olympics

Physical Therapy Professor's Work May Help Prevent Injuries

Alex Lopes

Assoc. Prof. of Physical Therapy Alexandre Lopes is capturing data on the injuries and illnesses of all athletes at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea.

By Karen Angelo

As Alexandre Lopes gears up to work at his sixth Olympic Games – four times as a physical therapist and two as a researcher – he’s just as excited as ever. 

“It’s an amazing experience to see the best athletes around the world compete, overcome obstacles and experience victory,” says Lopes, associate professor of physical therapy, who will be conducting research, blogging and posting photos about his experiences at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Working behind the scenes, Lopes will capture data on the injuries and illnesses of all of the athletes. The results will be provided to the International Olympic Committee and could lead to changes that prevent injuries in all sports.

At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Lopes and his research team found that the incidence of injury was highest in BMX cycling, a competition with eight riders racing on a track of jumps, tight bends and obstacles. Other sports with a high rate of injuries included boxing, mountain biking, taekwondo, water polo and rugby. The study results were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. 

“You can’t fix what you can’t measure,” says Lopes. “This data informs medical professionals and the Olympic committees on where changes are needed to protect the health of athletes.” 

Behind Every World-Class Athlete is a Good Physical Therapist 

In his home country of Brazil, Lopes got his start working with Olympic hopefuls in 1999. As the track and field team’s physical therapist, he kept the athletes healthy with strength and conditioning exercises to prevent injuries. 

But he didn’t attend his first Olympics until the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. A few of the Brazilian track and field team members qualified for the country’s bobsled team and hired him as their physical therapist again. 

Lopes switched from physical therapist to researcher at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. The International Olympic Committee tapped him for his expertise as an epidemiologist with clinical experience. 

He’s looking forward to learning more from his research at the Games as well as taking in some of the competitions as a spectator. 

“I’ll work in the Olympic Village but will also make my way to the events, especially to the bobsled races,” he says.