Team physician for US Figure Skating, Peter Gerbino MD, shares his Olympic experience and insights about the injuries that can sideline figure skaters and other athletes.

Q: Why were you selected to support the figure skaters?

PG: Over the years the skaters have got to know me at various events. Skaters and their coaches evaluate the physicians after each competition. I was selected to be the Olympic physician by the US Figure Skating organization and the athletes based on those evaluations. In general, the selection process for physicians is pretty rigorous.

Q: Has the case of Larry Nassar changed the way physicians are selected or the relationship with athletes?

PG: For some sports, yes. Gymnastics allowed a single doctor to cover four (4) Olympics with no oversight. Conversely, figure skating allows physicians to cover only one Olympic event. Plus the physicians work as part of a team to address the athlete’s medical issues. If a physical exam is necessary, we have a stand-by whenever possible.

Q: What was the highlight for you if you had to pick one memory?

PG: It’s impossible to narrow it to just one. The highlights for me were Nathan’s comeback in the long program, Chris and Alexa’s record quad spin and Mirai’s first Olympic triple axel. Their successes are my highlights.

Q: Did you get off the Olympic site to see the city or did you mainly take in other sporting events?

PG: There wasn’t much free time. When time allowed, I took in other events. The USA versus Canada women’s hockey game was awesome. Team USA beat Canada 3-2 in a shootout for it’s first gold medal.

Injuries: 

Several skaters have suffered injuries that sidelined them. Adam Rippon had a broken foot, Jason Brown has suffered with stress fractures and Polina Edmunds has had a foot problem.

Q: Are the injuries related to the jumps or is it just a result of overuse?

PG: Most injuries are overuse. Like all athletes, skaters push the envelope and from time to time push too far. Jumps are the most stressful activity to the body.

Q: Is there anything unique about the types of injuries sustained by figure skaters versus other athletes?

PG: Skaters do have unique injuries relating to jumping and spinning. Peak forces and torque lead to hip and knee injuries.

Q: Sounds like balancing recovery time vs. practice is one of the biggest challenges for athletes. Do they have a method post injury or is it dependent on the individual and/or the severity of the injury?

PG: There is always pressure to get back on the ice quickly and it can be tricky to do. Each athlete has his or her own doctor(s) and physical therapist. If surgery is needed, there are several high profile surgeons who work with the Olympic athletes. Each has their own rehabilitation protocols. 

Q: Many of the US Figure Skaters are based in California. Are you one of their physicians outside of events like the Olympics?

PG: Yes. I am consulted by phone regarding many injuries being managed elsewhere. Plus I travel to Grand Prix events around the world with the team 1-2 times per year.

Diet: 

Q: Adam Rippon has openly talked about his diet of 3 slices of bread/day. Could his lack of proper nutrition play a part in his injury? 

PG: Yes. He modified his diet hoping a slimmer physique would better enable him to do multiple quad jumps. The concept failed. Adam adopted a much better diet and focused on precision and style rather than quads. That strategy worked.

General: 

Q: How did you feel when it was all over? Were you tired, relieved, sad, satisfied?

PG: All of the above. Tired from a full month of continuous work. Relieved that there were no major medical issues. Sad when the event ended and it was time to say good-bye. Satisfied that everything went well. And also privileged that I was selected and able to be part of the Olympic Team.

Overuse Injuries:
Overuse injuries can happen when you try to take on too much physical activity too quickly. It can happen to anyone from beginners to athletes.

To avoid overuse injuries:

  1. Use proper form and gear
  2. Pace yourself. Weekend warriors have an increased risk of overuse injury. 
  3. Gradually increase your activity level
  4. Mix up your routine with cross training
  5. Maintain a healthy diet

If you experience an overuse injury, consult your doctor. Peter Gerbino, MD is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and is available to you too.

We love this quote from Jason Brown:

”All of the little dimples along the way — all the little setbacks — that’s what makes you go further.” [Just like a golf ball] ~ Jason Brown