Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center

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Information about project titled 'Prevailing high illness burden for elite Para athletes'

Prevailing high illness burden for elite Para athletes

Details about the project - category Details about the project - value
Project status: Ongoing
Project manager: Kathrin Steffen
Supervisor(s): Hilde Moseby Berge
Coworker(s): Ben Clarsen, Roald Bahr


Objective To describe the illness and injury pattern of Norwegian Para athletes over 5 consecutive Paralympic Summer and Winter Games cycles, and to identify which health problems should be targeted in risk management plans.

Methods Athletes were monitored for 12 to 18 months prior to each Games using a weekly online questionnaire (OSTRC-H2). We asked them to report all health problems they had experienced in the preceding 7 days, irrespective of their consequences on their sports participation or performance and whether they had sought medical attention.

Results Between 2011 and 2020, 35 paraplegic and 59 non-paraplegic athletes prepared to represent Norway; of these, 66 (71%) were selected for multiple Paralympic Games. At any given time, 37% of the athletes (95% CI 36-38%) reported having at least one health problem. Paraplegic athletes lost 11 days per year due to respiratory problems (95% CI 10-12) compared to 8 days (8-9) among non-paraplegic athletes. Gastrointestinal problems caused a time loss of on average 4 days per year in paraplegic athletes versus 2 days for non-paraplegic athletes (mean difference 1.5 days 95% CI 0.8-2.2). Musculoskeletal injuries generated a high burden for both athlete groups, in particular to the elbow and shoulder (all), and knee (non-paraplegic athletes). 

Conclusion At any given time, nearly 2 out of 5 elite Norwegian Para athletes reported at least one health problem. Respiratory tract and other infections, gastrointestinal problems, shoulder, elbow and knee injuries represented the greatest health burden. Our findings can help guide the allocation of clinical resources, which should include a broad network of medical specialists, dieticians and physiotherapists in Para health teams to meet the clinical challenges.