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Olympic Athletes Rely on Osteopathic Physicians for Health Care and Performance Enhancement in Rio

Three onsite physicians share insights from the 2016 Olympic Games

By AOA Media Team


RIO DE JANEIRO—August 12, 2016—The Olympic Games bond elite athletes with their physicians, who manage their ailments and promote recovery during one of the most high-profile competitions of their lives. Several osteopathic physicians (DOs) shared observations from their first days tending to gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic teams.

Cupping, an ancient remedy using heated glass cups to create rehabilitative suction, is having a moment thanks to the circular bruises sported by Michael Phelps and other prominent athletes. The treatment is offered at the four high performance health centers at the Olympic Games.

Rebeccah Rodriguez, DO, medical director of the Team USA high performance center, says cupping is believed to revitalize muscles. “We regularly use cupping to facilitate muscle recovery for our Olympians,” she said. “The ancient therapy is most often used in conjunction with other techniques including osteopathic manipulation, practiced by osteopathic physicians.”

Manual Manipulation
Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) is the top request from Olympic gymnasts as well as rugby and badminton players, Dr.  Rodriguez added. This hands-on therapeutic modality is used to treat muscular skeletal complaints.

“Osteopathic physicians, including me, use OMT to identify and correct asymmetries in the body, which usually corresponds to pain reduction,” Dr. Rodriguez explained. For some athletes, it’s a matter of helping improve performance by reviewing the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities within the context of a training schedule. For others, it addresses specific conditions including chronic low back pain, concussions and migraines.

Two case reports published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA) document improvements in concussion-related symptoms following an initial session of OMT. Additionally, recent studies​ published in the JAOA found that OMT reduced pain and improved function in patients suffering from chronic, nonspecific low back pain.

Zika Management
A number of high profile athletes and media, as well as their families, elected to not attend the Games as a result of risk of infection. But while the Zika virus figured heavily in advance decision-making, the transmission risk in Rio is relatively low if proper protocols are followed.

“While Zika is a serious concern, awareness and protection are high onsite,” said Naresh Rao, DO, team physician to the U.S. Olympic Water Polo teams and author of Step Up Your Game. “I’m most concerned about the at-risk athletes and fans living and traveling in warm destinations without adequate mosquito repellent or protective gear.”

It’s important to remember that Zika is classified as a sexually transmitted disease. Any exposed athlete, man or women, is being urged to consider the potentially severe consequences to the health of their baby in an upcoming pregnancy, Dr. Rao added.

Concussions, Contaminated Water
“There are two topics on every Olympic physician’s mind: concussions and contaminated water.  Every Olympic physician is being extremely vigilant about educating their athletes about these hazards,” said James Lally, DO, chief medical officer of the International Shooting Sport Federation and member of the International Olympic Committee. In that role, Dr. Lally is responsible for the health and well-being of nearly 400 athletes participating in Olympic shooting sports.

He encourages all athletes, family members and fans to be on the lookout for signs of concussion, which can linger. Symptoms of a concussion include ongoing head or neck pain, difficulty remembering or concentrating, slowness in speech or thought, getting lost, feeling tired or experiencing frequent mood changes.

Sore throats, vomiting, fever, headache, sinus infections, stomach-ache and other flu-like symptoms may be a symptom of a water-related illness.  Dr. Lally advises athletes to check in with the Olympic medical team if they experience any of those symptoms.

DOs have a long history of serving Olympic athletes and are known for their specialized skills in sports medicine​, Dr. Lally explained, because the profession aligns well with the Olympic philosophy that an athlete is comprised of body, will and mind.  DOs take a whole person approach to medicine and are trained to look beyond symptoms to care for the mind, body and spirit of patients.

About the American Osteopathic Association
The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) represents more than 123,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students; promotes public health; encourages scientific research; serves as the primary certifying body for DOs; and is the accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools. More information on DOs/osteopathic medicine can be found at


Media Contact:
Jessica Bardoulas