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Injury Timeout: dramatic medical advancements are helping Olympic athletes recover, former figure skater Brynn Carman included

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - The 2024 Paris Olympics are quickly approaching. Athletes from Colorado are training across the world. Many of them, are likely, just trying to stay healthy. Few people know what that training, and recovery from injury, is like than Brynn Carman.  

"I don't think there's a single athlete that competes on the Olympic stage that isn't injured in that exact moment or has had an injury that has impacted the way they train, the way they compete,” said Carman. 

“They’re just resilient,” she said.  

Carman is a former Junior National Champion figure skater who had Olympic hopes until injuries, and a growth spurt shortened her career.  

“When I had my left foot done at about 16, they felt my Achilles tendon and they're like, ‘Huh, that feels like a 60-year-old woman’s,’” said Carman, who knows all too well the rigorous demands of trying to make an Olympic team.  

“There was always something that was a little bit sore, a little bit hurt,” she said.  

Carman, who is now the co-anchor of KRDO13’s Good Morning Colorado, suffered a traumatic knee injury skiing this past winter. She’s spent the last several months rehabbing from surgery that was done to re-attach her ACL to her tibia.

“It's been a balancing act. P.T. is basically a part-time job these days,” said Carman. 

Doctors told her it was possible that her knee was already unstable due to injuries from her skating days. 

“I do have tightness in my back. I do have hip issues, foot issues now, the ski injury, and a knee issue. I just think it's something I'm going to have to be very aware of, which is the sacrifice of being an elite athlete,” said Carman. 

And Carman’s story is not unique.

According to a British Journal of Sports Medicine study from 2020, in a survey of over 3300 retired Olympians spanning 36 Summer and Winter Games, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) reported at least one Olympic career significant injury. The report also shows that injury prevalence has increased greatly over the last several decades; a third of former Olympians say they experience current pain and functional limitations they attribute to an Olympic career injury. 

“[I’m] constantly working on my body. I think is just something I'm going to have to do for the rest of my life because I do have those injuries,” said Carman. 

Carman’s injury could have been life-altering just a few decades ago. The good news is this, advances in medical science, for treatment and recovery, have advanced so quickly that injuries once considered “career-ending,” now have athletes back in competition just 9-12 months later. 

“Now we do surgery, we reconstruct that and we have, and in the last ten years, the ability to supplement that with synthetic fibers and get patients back ... [in] 6 to 9 months for most of the things we do, it's dramatically changed,” said Dr. David Schneider, an orthopedic surgery of sports medicine at CommonSpirit Health in Denver. 

Dr. Schneider works with Olympic and professional athletes regularly. He says it’s not hyperbole to believe there are countless athletes competing at this year’s Olympics who would have already had a career-ending injury if not for modern advancements in surgery. 

“If you look at our United States Olympic team, maybe a lot of athletes have had shoulder stabilization operations, ACL reconstructions, ankles that are fixed, and even maybe one or two Achilles tendon ruptures,” he said. 

“Even just 20 years ago, there weren't very many sophisticated ways of fixing those. Now we have really sophisticated and fast ways of fixing those and getting athletes back onto the field of competition in half the time or a third of the time. It's really dramatically changed,” said Dr. Schneider. 

Now the challenge is helping retired athletes, relieving them of their lingering pain from injuries suffered during their career. 

“Glory is temporary. Pain is forever,” said Dr. Schneider, quoting one of his former patients. 

“So if someone dislocated a shoulder a bunch or had an old labrum tear back in the 70s or 80s, most patients get really bad arthritis,” he said. 

And with the help of robotics and artificial intelligence, treatment and recovery techniques could advance in exponential fashion sooner rather than later. 

“I think it's going to be the combination of technology of understanding biologics better, better implants, and better use of computers and robotics,” said Schneider. 

The Paris Olympic Games start Friday, July 26.

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Josh Helmuth

Josh is an anchor for Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Josh here.


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