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Here's how to be a sports surgeon

Welcome to the world of sports medicine, a multidisciplinary clinical and academic specialty that focuses on injuries sustained while doing strenuous activity, or playing sports.

education Updated: Jun 20, 2012 17:39 IST
Pranab Ghosh

Sometime before playing his first Test match, cricketer Ishant Sharma hurt his right shoulder and had problems while bowling. He consulted Dr Prateek K Gupta, consultant orthopaedics and sports surgeon, and was diagnosed to be suffering from a rotator-cuff injury. The treatment included medication and a rehabilitation programme comprising of physiotherapy, local manipulation, and sports-specific manoeuvres/ exercises — stretching and strengthening. “He managed well and went on to play the match and took five wickets,” says Dr Gupta.

US-based Indian golfer Simi Mehra had a knee problem that required immediate surgery. It would have kept her off the circuit for more than a year. She consulted Dr Rajat Chauhan, who calls himself a ‘primary catalyst’ and runs the clinic Back 2 Fitness in New Delhi. He prescribed her some medicines and a series of exercises, because of which her condition improved and surgery was postponed. “Rajat’s clinic is not only for rehabilitation; it is also a place to strengthen your core muscles and increase your flexibility,” says a grateful Mehra.

Welcome to the world of sports medicine, a multidisciplinary clinical and academic specialty that focuses on injuries sustained while doing strenuous activity, or playing sports.

According to Dr Gupta, the scope of work in the country is “tremendous”. However, “there are hardly any sports surgeons or physicians in India. In fact, most athletes are treated by general doctors who may or may not have experience or training in sports medicine,” he says. At the moment, there is a huge requirement for good sports medicine doctors, especially because India is staging the Commonwealth Games 2010, Gupta adds.

There is hardly any awareness of sports medicine among the sports fraternity of the country, says Dr Deepak Chaudhary, director, Sports Injury Centre, Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi.

“Even the doctors who practise it are not fully aware of the possibilities,” points out Chauhan. Then there is “the lack of job opportunities” and the fact that “it is yet to be recognised as a specialty in the country,” points out Dr Chaudhary. The National Institute of Sports, Patiala, under the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, is the only institute in India recognised by the Medical Council of India (MCI) that offers a two-year postgraduate diploma in sports medicine.

“But the syllabus there does not keep pace with the fast-changing world of international sports,” says Dr Chauhan. It is no surprise then that there are only a few truly good centres in the country where a sportsperson can get proper treatment. As a result, “athletes who can afford treatment abroad go to places such as Australia and South Africa,” says Dr Chaudhary.

The challenge, therefore, is to increase the level of awareness among both doctors and sportspersons, create adequate infrastructure, and acknowledge the fact that sports medicine is no longer confined to injury management alone but extends to, as Dr Chauhan points out, “performance enhancement, injury prevention and rehabilitation”, of a sportsperson.

What's it about?
Sports medicine is a field of medical science that provides health care for physically active people, especially sportspersons. A practitioner has to take up a number of responsibilities, some of them being selection of sporting talent, evaluating and enhancing human performance, treating sports injuries, etc. It draws on the knowledge of many specialists, including physicians, athletic trainers, physiologists and physical educators. These experts aid in determining the kind of training needed to help athletes perform to their highest capabilities without injury

Clock work
5 am: Go to the park and jog
8.30 am: Reach clinic
9 am: Check mails; do
11 am: Treat patients — sportspersons or someone who has back or shoulder pain
1.30 pm: Lunch
4 pm: Treat patients
8 pm: Call it a day

The payoff
Entry level: Around Rs 40,000 per month
Middle level: Rs 75,000 to Rs 1 lakh per month
Senior level: Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh per month
In the public sector, a sports medicine doctor’s pay scale is at par with other CGHS doctors

. You must have excellent diagnostic and healing skills
. You must be able to understand how each sport is played and injuries common to players
. You must have adequate liaison skills as you will have to interact with sports professionals all the time

How do I get there?
To be a sports medicine practioner, you have to be an MBBS, then do the MCI-recognised two-year postgraduate diploma in sports medicine, offered by the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, under the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences. Or you can go abroad for further studies. A sports medicine doctor undergoes training in exercise physiology, conservative practice of orthopaedics and rehabilitation and allied subjects

. National Institute of sports, Patiala,
. Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham,
. Queen Mary College, University of London,

Pros & cons
. One gets to see the sport one is perhaps passionate about from a close range
. The satisfaction is immense when a sportsperson one has worked with triumphs in his/her respective field
. As financial returns at the junior level, when compared to some other branches of medicine, are not high, it would be the passion for sport and your work in particular that will help you persevere
. The training one has to go through to become a success in the field is rather time-consuming

Cutting-Edge Factor

Doping is the biggest challenge that a sports medicine doctor has to face, says a practitioner

Where can a sports medicine practitioner/doctor find employment?
Sports Authority of India (SAI), sports federations, corporate firms sponsoring teams, Central government agencies taking a keen interest in sport, such as the armed forces, Railways, and the paramilitary forces.

How important is the role of a sports medicine practitioner in the medical set-up in India?
A sports medicine expert is a great help in sports training, which gives the cutting-edge to a high-performance sportsperson. Also, with the huge impact of drugs in sport, players/athletes need to be constantly on their guard against any kind of inadvertent doping and closely check all supplements and nutrition they are consuming.

Experts can also aid in quick recovery from sports injuries and assist and assess high-performance training and recovery.

Who needs to consult a sports medicine doctor?
Sports medicine consultation can be offered to high-performance athletes, leisure athletes, fitness enthusiasts, the elderly population seeking to build their health, specially able athletes, children… in fact anyone seeking fitness and involved with sports.

What are the challenges facing the profession?
The biggest challenge faced today is the problem of doping and the specialist has to keep him/herself abreast of the latest developments in the field.
Also of particular interest is enhancing sports performance by using the knowledge of exercise physiology for evaluating the athlete and then working on the modifiable factors. Methods of treatment have changed in a big way with the use of physiotherapeutic modalities, exercise therapy, hydrotherapy, etc.

What is the future of sports medicine in the country?
The future of sports medicine lies in talent selection, helping in rapid recovery from injuries and predicting performance.

Dr Deepak Chaudhary, director, Sports Injury Centre, Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh