Olympic Rings

Olympics and Injuries

Olympics and Injuries

August has arrived, the month of holidays, sun and fun for most. The month most people wait eagerly for, but this August for a group of 622 Great British athletes it’s the pinnacle of their sporting careers. For 366 of these athletes will spend 2 weeks of the month representing Team GB in the Rio Olympics, while the other 256 athletes put the finishing preparations to their turn to represent Team GB in Rio in September at the Paralympics.

622 athletes will be fighting it out across 44 different sports to claim the title of Olympic Champion or Olympic Medallist. Most athletes have worked hard over the last 4 years since London 2012 to ensure that they can achieve their dreams at the pinnacle of world multi-event sport tournaments.

So I hear you cry, what can possibly go wrong? Why is a First Aid Training business writing an article on the Olympics?

And well you would be right to ask, however, I want to deal with the first of the 2 questions.

What could possibly go wrong?

Sadly, the worst thing that could go wrong is injury! (I see now you understand the answer to the second question!)

During the London Olympics in 2012, 1361 injuries were reported across all 204 participating National Olympic Committees (NOC), this equates to 11% of all athletes who participated incurred an injury. The highest risk of injury was in Football, Taekwondo, BMX, Handball, Hockey, Athletics, Badminton and of course Weightlifting, with a much lower chance of injury in Equestrian, Rowing, Shooting, Canoe Slalom and Sprint, Track Cycling and Archery.

I thought in this month’s article we would look at some injuries that could happen and how, as a first aider, we can treat these.

Please remember that this article is not in any way a replacement for a First Aid course, and I would advise that should you hold a position where First Aid could be needed, that you should attend a course.

So what injuries are a possibility?

  • Sprains and Strains,
  • Contusion and Laceration,
  • Fractures,
  • Dislocations,
  • Spinal Injury,
  • Concussion.

Let’s deal with each of these injuries individually.

Sprains and Strains

Firstly, let’s look at the 2012 Olympics for an idea as to how many athletes suffered from this injury. A grand total of 556 athletes had a sprain or strain, making these the biggest injuries at the last multi-event tournament. Athletics, Football and Handball are the 3 most at risk sports with Archery, Track Cycling and Trampoline Gymnastics least at risk.

What is a Sprain?

A sprain is an injury to a ligament at a joint.

What is a Strain?

A strain is an injury to a muscle.

Both are caused by a sudden wrenching or stretching movement, tearing the surrounding muscle or ligament.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Pain,
  • Loss of Power,
  • Swelling or Bruising,
  • Tenderness.

Please note that often minor fractures are mistaken as a sprain/strain. If in doubt get casualty checked out by a medically trained professional who can use an x-ray to establish the true injury.


Rest the injury, stop doing the activity and protect from further harm.

Apply an ice pack (e.g. pack of peas wrapped in a tea towel) to the affected area for 10 minutes every 2 hours for a total of 24 hours.

Apply a firm (not constrictive) bandage to the affected area. It can help to reduce swelling. You could apply the bandage over crushed ice for the initial 10 minutes.

Elevate the injury to help reduce swelling.

Contusion and Laceration

Contusion and laceration injuries are the second and third most likely injuries during the coming Olympics when using evidence from the last Olympic games held in London in 2012. 285 lacerations and contusions were recorded.

I have grouped these together as they are both minor injuries affecting the bleeding. A contusion is a bruise and a laceration is a deep cut or tear wound, categorised usually with a jagged edge.

Treatment of such injuries is fairly straightforward as far as first aid goes. When dealing with a contusion injury apply an ice pack to reduce swelling, 10 minutes is a good general rule of thumb. With a lacerated injury, the key is to help stop the bleeding and reduce the risk of infection. Using a first aid bandage, lightly dampen the pad of the bandage with water to prevent any flaps of skin sticking to the wound, and then place the dampened pad on the wound and wrap the crêpe bandage firmly around the rest of the limbs.

Should blood seep through the bandage, please apply a second bandage firmly on top of the first one. You can apply on top of each other a total of 3 bandages, if blood still seeps through the 3rd one then remove the top 2 LEAVING the base bandage in place and apply another on top. You will need to arrange for transportation to medical professionals at this stage.


The fourth most common injury at the Summer Olympics was fractures. You may know this type of wound as ‘broken bones’ a grand total of 41 injuries occurred.

There are 4 main types of fractures:

  • Closed,
  • Open,
  • Complicated,
  • Greenstick (Children)/Hairline(adults).

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Pain,
  • Loss of Power,
  • Unnatural Movements,
  • Swelling or Bruising,
  • Deformity,
  • Irregularity (with lumps, bumps and depressions in the skin),
  • Crepitus (the sound of the 2 ends of bone grinding together),
  • Tenderness.


Immobilise the injury and prevent the casualty from using the affected injury any further, however again take the lead from the casualty, forcibly restricting the limb a casualty wishes to move may cause further tissue damage.

Never try to straighten a broken bone that is angulated.

On our courses we will provide guidance on how to minimise the movement of the casualty by demonstrating and observing the application of an elevated and support sling. We will also offer some common sense alternatives to using a triangular bandage.


Dislocations are caused when the bone comes out of its socket, very often this is diagnosable by the look of the limb being in a strange position or pointing in abnormal directions. Other indicators include:

  • Intense pain,
  • Reduced Muscle strength,
  • Bruising or redness,
  • Difficulty in moving,
  • Stiffness.

It can be very difficult to tell the difference between a dislocation, sprain, strain or a fracture, the only way to be sure is with an x-ray.

During the last Olympics, this was the 5th most common injury causing 23 injuries. The most likely sports to get a dislocation are Football, Hockey and Water Polo, all with 4 injuries apiece.

The main treatment for a first aider, is to immobilise the affected part of the body, taking the lead from the casualty themselves, for they are more than likely going to have found a position that is comfortable for them. You MUST NEVER try to put the bone back into its socket.

If you want to and your casualty will allow you to, apply a sling to the injured arm.

On all our First Aid courses we offer advice and training on how to apply a sling.

Spinal Injury

The spine is an important part of the body. Within the 33 vertebrae there is a combination of discs between them and the spinal cord that flows down the spine. In some cases, injuries can cause lifelong disability to the casualty.

12 spinal injuries were caused during London 2012. Athletics with 6 and Weightlifting with 2 are the most likely. Table Tennis suffered from 1 spinal injury which may surprise some people.

It can be difficult to identify a spinal injury however you should suspect a spinal injury if:

  • You suspect a blow to the head, neck or back has been sustained,
  • The casualty has fallen from a height,
  • The casualty has dived into shallow water,
  • They have been involved in a car crash,
  • The person has been involved in a ‘cave in’ injury which could be a rugby scrum,
  • They have had multiple injuries,
  • They feel pain or sensitivity in the neck, back or radiating down arms or legs, particularly after an impact.

The most important thing that you can do for a casualty in this situation is to restrict them from moving in anyway. However, never hold down a casualty to stop them from moving if they are adamant that they are wanting to move as physical restriction here could result in the casualty being even further injured than before the physical restraint.

The second most important thing to do for any such casualty is to reassure them, telling them that you do not think it is a good idea for them to move, and if necessary keep them warm. You will need to sit and stay with them, talking to them throughout, supporting their head and keeping it in line with their body.

Call 999/112 for emergency help. If they have stopped breathing this will take priority for you to carry out Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).


Concussion was the 5th biggest cause of injury at the London Olympics, with 6 casualties. Football was the biggest cause of this injury.

Concussion is the shaking of the brain. This can be caused by blows to the head, a fall from height or even a potential spinal injury.

It is worth mentioning at this point that if you suspect a head injury you must always suspect a spinal injury.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Brief period of impaired consciousness,
  • Wound to the scalp,
  • Dizziness,
  • Nausea,
  • Mild generalised headache,
  • Confusion,
  • History of head injury,
  • Deteriorating response levels,
  • Unequal pupils.


  1. Sit the casualty down and apply a cold compress to hold against the injury, this can help to reduce swelling. Continue to assess the response levels of the casualty using the AVPU scale that we teach as standard on all courses.
  2. Regularly monitor and record vital signs:
    • Breathing,
    • Pulse,
    • Response levels.
  3. When the casualty has recovered ask a responsible person to look after the casualty.
  4. If this has been caused from sporting activity, the casualty should not return to the activity until they have been assessed fully by a medically trained practitioner. Please note that casualties often have an inbuilt competitive streak, which will make them want to return to the field of play immediately; you will need to prevent them from doing so.
  5. Advise the casualty to seek medical help.

Remember that concussion can take 24 hours to fully show itself on the casualty, therefore you should keep an eye on a casualty for a period of time, especially if you suspect that they have suffered from a head injury.

Lastly of course due to the location of the Olympics there is a further risk to the athletes that we haven’t mentioned yet but has been in the news frequently in the last year. This risk of course is the Zika virus.

Zika Virus

According to The World Health Organisation (WHO) Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by the Aedes Mosquitoes. People with Zika may suffer from:

  • Mild fever,
  • Skin Rash,
  • Conjunctivitis,
  • Muscle and joint pain,
  • Malaise (a general feeling of discomfort, illness or unease), or
  • Headache.

At present the advice for treatment is to speak to a medical practitioner for assistance.

So how will Zika affect the Rio De Janeiro Olympics in the next few weeks?

Rio de Janeiro’s Health Secretary, Daniel Soranz said,

‘Zika should not deter travellers
from coming to the Games,
as cases of the virus
had dipped significantly in recent months.’

Now that Brazil is having drier and cooler weather amid the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, incidences of the Zika virus have declined sharply in recent months. Therefore, the approximated 500,000 visitors to the Olympics should be fairly safe from the risk of Zika.

In summary of the question, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ clearly the answer is a lot of things. However we would like to wish the spectators a safe and enjoyable occasion, and to the confirmed 10,293 Olympians (this number is likely to rise) and the Paralympians (numbers not yet confirmed), we wish them a safe, healthy and successful Olympics and Paralympics, but please do remember to warm up your bodies to try to prevent possible injury.

Remember: this is not to be used to replace a First Aid course.

Now please go and enjoy your month of August and the Olympics safe in the knowledge of some basic First Aid understanding.
Should you wish to follow the Olympics, we have a dedicated page on our website. To access it please click here. Alternatively, for more information on our First Aid courses, please click here.

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