India is a country that has highly skillful and reputed doctors. Yet the medical setup in India sports still lacks professionalism. Sportskeeda caught up with Dr Nikhil Latey, who is the Director of Sports Science and Rehabilitation at Olympic Gold Quest, to know more about the Indian scenario and OGQ’s contribution in keeping the players healthy.
How is it working with ‘Olympic Gold Quest’ for the past one year?
Dr Nikhil: It has been challenging, exciting and life altering. I got a chance to work with some of the top athletes in the country and it’s safe to say that it’s been the best year of my life.
Being the director of Sports Science and Rehabilitation could you explain to us about the medical team you have at OGQ?
Dr Nikhil: The most vulnerable time in an athlete’s career is when he gets injured. It is at this time that you need to get him proper medical aid and help him get back to the sport at the earliest. In order to facilitate this, at OGQ, we approached some of the top consultants in the city of Mumbai to join our medical team. They gladly agreed to support the cause and give priority treatments to OGQ athletes. The team comprises of orthopaedic surgeons specialising in hand, knee, spine and shoulder, a specialist musculo skeletal radiologist, psychologist, nutritionist, sports physiotherapist, strength and conditioning coach. I work as the sports scientist in the team.
When an athlete is injured, we work at a war footing to first accurately diagnose the condition, get the best treatment and then chart a return to sports rehab program.
As you have been helping out athletes from different sports for a long time, are we basically prone to injuries? If yes, what are the reasons for it?
Dr Nikhil: Actually when an athlete pushes the limits of his/her performance, they are bound to get injured sometime. In this respect all athletes at the elite level are prone to injuries. In my experience I have not encountered an increased incidence of injuries among our athletes as compared to the ones abroad.
Boxing is a sport where the chances of athletes getting injured are high. What sort of treatment or advice do you provide to boxers immediately after a boxing match is over, so that they won’t carry it forward to the next match?
Dr Nikhil: Recovery is an important part of boxing training. The first thing that I ask the boxers to do is ice the injured areas and do proper stretching. Immediately after the bout, the boxers are warmed up and their pain response is blunted. Therefore once the bodies cool down, the injured areas are looked at and appropriate treatment is given. They regularly take sauna and massage to aid better recovery.
How important is it to provide mental support for injured athletes, to enhance their confidence levels?
Dr Nikhil: As I mentioned before, when an athlete is injured he needs the most support. This includes psychological support as well. Post injury, the athlete’s confidence is down and the longer the rehab takes, the more it takes a toll on the athlete. Therefore it is very important to provide mental support to the athlete. This includes everything from informing him/her of the progress of the condition, steps in the rehab process and time lines, mental exercises to help them focus and concentrate and to keep a positive outlook.
I have heard from an Indian football coach that players tend to get injured or lose their fitness once they take a break from the action or are recovering from injury. Do you give athletes a prescribed fitness programme during these days to make sure that they stay fit?
Dr Nikhil: Absolutely! It is extremely important to have a ‘graded return to sports rehabilitation programme’ in place so that when the athlete does return to the sport, he can hit the ground running, so to speak. Similarly during off-seasons, the athletes should take part in basic conditioning programmes that will keep them fit and in good shape for the next season.
The Liverpool team doctor, in a recent interview, said that Asians (especially Indians) don’t have a proper diet and the right mentality to fitness. Here is quoting him.
“If you eat one laddoo, you’ll need to walk for three miles to get it out of your system, I said. A guy stood up and asked, ‘How long will I have to walk if I ate 10 laddoos” and that mentality is what we are up against,” he says.
Do you believe that this “attitude” is one among many reasons for the lack of success of Indian athletes in the international arena?
Dr Nikhil: Yes, that is one of the reasons actually. The thing is that in India we don’t grow up with a sporting attitude. Therefore, awareness of proper diet and exercise is a bit low. In the example you mentioned, the athlete fails to realize that a little overindulgence on his part will mean that he has to put extra burden on his body and that will not only hamper his training (he won’t be able to give 100% in training if he has spent energy burning off unwanted calories), but also his preparation for the game.
In a team sport like football, carelessness on the part of a team member can affect the performance and dynamics of the whole team. The solution to this “attitude” problem is to educate the athlete about his body, nutrition and exercise.
Having worked with West Ham United FC in the past, could you explain briefly about the medical setup there? How much importance do they give to the players’ health issues?
Dr Nikhil: My involvement with the West Ham team was limited to pre-season testing. It was a one-off experience and I can’t really comment on their medical set up based on first hand information.
However, I can tell you that they have a sizable support staff comprising sports scientists, physios, masseurs, strength and conditioning coaches, trainers who assist the chief coach and his team. They take the health and fitness of every member of the team very seriously.
I can give you an example of that. We were performing some tests on the team in the field. Being in England, the weather was sunny to start off with, but suddenly turned cold and windy with rain. At this point, the chief coach took the entire team in and brought them out in batches of 5. When the first 5 were undergoing testing, the next 5 were warming up with the assistant coach. This ensured that the athletes were able to give their 100% on the tests. Had the chief coach been negligent, the athletes would have cooled down quickly and the test readings would have been faulty. I was impressed with how much they took the testing process seriously and that is indicative of their professional attitude.
What do we lack here in India and what sort of changes do you want to see?
Dr Nikhil: We lack proper organisation. We have the best doctors and physios here in India, as good as anywhere else. But the problem is that there is no medium for the top athletes to consult with the top doctors. The various sport teams don’t have a complete support staff and a list of consultant doctors to whom athletes can be referred to. Proper organisation is what needs to happen to ensure that the athletes are in top shape. Also, the athletes would be more willing to push hard if they know that there is a support system in place that will help them recover quickly and well, in case they get injured.
Do you believe that we underestimate the situation, or is there a lack of understanding in our country with regard to the importance of a physio and a doctor in sports organizations?
Dr Nikhil: I think that the knowledge is lacking. Once the athletes and coaches are exposed to how much difference a good support staff can make, they can make sure that they have access to physios in the future.
How pleased are you with the facilities provided by the Olympic Gold Quest to support athletes?
Dr Nikhil: OGQ has made sure that the best facilities are made available to the athletes, be it physios present at the national camps or priority appointments with top doctors. I am quite pleased with not just the facilities OGQ provides but also the attitude and urgency shown in dealing with injuries.
I would like to thank the CEO Viren Rasquinha for this. Being a top athlete and former captain of the national Hockey team, he has first hand info on injuries and how badly they can affect a player. He is responsible for the speed at which the OGQ responds when any of our athletes gets injured.
Are you conducting any special programmes for the athletes aimed at the London Olympics 2012?
Dr Nikhil: Not really. The athletes are in the national camps and we try to make sure that they stay fit and train well.
Being the Director at OGQ, can you highlight one special achievement of the medical team during this one year?
Dr Nikhil: A couple actually. Nanao Singh, one of the top 49 kg boxers in India suffered a broken wrist. OGQ made sure that he was immediately brought to Mumbai and was operated upon by Dr. Sudhir Warrier, who is a hand specialist. Post surgery, an extensive rehab programme was put in place. In his first tournament post surgery, at the national games in Jharkhand in Feb’11, Nanao won gold by beating the CWG and Asian medalist Amandeep Singh.
N.Usha, who is a 60 Kg boxer and a double world championship silver medalist, tore her knee ligament last year. The medical team at OGQ was able to get her back into the ring in 4 months’ time which matches the time lines for rehab at the best institutes in the world. Usha just won a bronze at the nationals and gold at the Federation Cup, and is now among the top two 60 kg boxers in India.
What sort of advice would you give to upcoming athletes to ensure that they stay fit and avoid injuries?
Dr Nikhil: They have to do their conditioning exercises regularly. They are boring and repetitive but these exercises keep the muscles and joints in top shape.