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Ask Me Anything: Winter Olympics with Steve Isono

Stanford sports medicine doctor tends participates in a #Askmeanything about his experience at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Stanford sports medicine physician, Steven Isono, MD, is back at the Olympic Village, this time for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games. (He was in Tokyo for the Summer Olympics.) As the head physician for Team USA, Isono attended the Games, which recently ended, overseeing a group of physicians, physical therapists, certified massage therapists and sports psychiatrists who care for the athletes and staff.

For an Ask Me Anything story on Stanford Medicine's Instagram account, we invited our followers to ask Isono questions about all things Olympics. Below is a sampling of the top questions and answers, which have been lightly edited and condensed.

What is the most common injury you see at the Olympics?

Overuse injuries involving muscles, tendons and ligaments are the most common. An athlete's success in qualifying for the Games is a result of years of training and prior competitions. The athletes' training regimens and schedules are already set and they are not "trying something new" while at the Games.

What unexpected injuries or ailments affect a lot of the athletes?

A great question! Gastrointestinal problems -- diarrhea, vomiting, nausea -- are often among the unexpected ailments that can affect or even derail an athlete's training and performance. That's usually a result of changes in diet and when eating food here at the Olympic Village.

We also see respiratory issues or infections from traveling and being confined with a concentrated population We are equipped with equipment that uses biochemical tests to diagnose viral/bacterial infections within an hour of obtaining a fluid sample, such as spit. This allows us to quickly establish the correct treatment regimen.

Another unexpected ailment can result from changes in an athlete's mental health status, which is multifactorial, and has been brought to the forefront by gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka.

What are the pathways to get into sports medicine? 

Were you allowed to bring any medications from the U.S.?

The medications that we bring for Team USA are highly regulated the International Olympic Committee and the National Organizing Committee in Beijing. 

No narcotic medications can be taken into a foreign country. They are provided by the pharmacy in the Olympic Village, if necessary. All of the physicians for each country are given a temporary license for prescribing medications in the host country.

How have you been dealing with COVID-19? Does it affect treatment?

COVID-19 is a 24/7 issue here in Beijing. Just to be allowed to enter the country, we had to fly to Los Angeles, stay in a "bubble" for 48 hours, and be tested by a lab set up by the Chinese government.

We were allowed to fly into Beijing only after this PCR test was negative. We tested again at the Beijing airport, were taken to a hotel and were not allowed to leave our rooms until the results of that test were back. If you were negative, you could  be transported to the Village. If you were positive, you were taken to another hotel to isolate for 10 days. 

Once in the Village:

  • A PCR test is required every day; 
  • KN95 or N95 masks are required at all times;
  • You must register daily temperature checks.

Fortunately, COVID-19 has not influenced any of the treatment plans of the athletes thus far.

What is the best part about working with these athletes?

The best part is working with the team of people who are involved with the athletes' care. They all make it happen for the athlete. They understand the uniqueness of the Olympic Games and the sole reason we are all there: To enable the athlete to have a perfect performance at the perfect time.

For more Ask Me Anything content, visit related Scope stories.

Photo courtesy of Steve Isono

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