The 2020 Tokyo Olympics wrapped up just a few weeks ago, and the United States brought home 113 medals this summer. The hard work of Olympic athletes is unmatched; they intensely train for years to become elite athletes and qualify to compete on the Olympic stage. With so much extreme physical activity, it is no secret that many Olympians become injured and put a lot of strain on their bodies. Consequently, there is an extensive radiology team working behind the scenes at every Olympics.
Dr. Yukihisa Saida, the chief radiologist, led a Japanese team of 23 radiologists and 75 radiographers working in the polyclinic at the Tokyo Olympics. The polyclinic’s equipment consisted of two MRI machines, six ultrasound machines, and one x-ray system. There were no CT machines on site, but one could be accessed right outside the Olympic Village.
Dr. Saida’s team was kept very busy during the three weeks the games took place. From July 13th to August 7th, they performed 517 MRI scans, 324 x-rays, and 39 ultrasound scans. While these numbers did not cover all days of competition, they reflect that the number of medical imaging exams done at the Tokyo Olympics was lower than the previous Olympic games. During the 2016 Rio Olympics, 862 MRI scans, 460 x-rays, and 178 ultrasound exams were performed.
This year, Dr. Saida’s team conducted an average of 30 MRI scans each day athletes were in the Olympic Village. Around 90% of all MRI scans done on athletes were to evaluate musculoskeletal injuries. Some common musculoskeletal injuries include fractured bones, sprained muscles, torn ligaments, and dislocated joints. Receiving accurate and proper radiological examinations is crucial in ensuring these elite athletes’ safety.
Improvements Since 2016
There has been improvement in athlete medical care since the 2016 Rio Olympics. Patient identifier numbers improved the electronic medical records of athletes and picture archiving and communication system (PACS). With nearly 11,000 athletes and over 60 medical devices installed in the polyclinic, patient identifier numbers allowed scans to be conducted more effectively and helped eliminate the language barrier issue between athletes and radiographers. The patient identifier numbers created a stronger system for managing so many athletes in such a short period.
Olympic athletes compete at the highest global level, and severe injuries are frequent. Dr. Saida was shocked at the serious injuries and muscle damage through which some Olympic athletes were competing. Notable observations made by Dr. Saida were that many handball and hockey players had severely damaged upper arm muscles and that the psoas muscles of many Olympic athletes are very hypertrophic. Olympic athletes compete through severe injuries because they may never get the chance to qualify for the Olympic games again. Miraculously, these athletes can still perform so well despite the strains their bodies are enduring.
Overall, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were successful for Dr. Saida, his team, and many fantastic athletes. Radiology is a crucial part of keeping athletes safe and assessing the severity of injuries they face. The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics begin later this month, and 20 Japanese radiologists will help the Paralympian athletes with their medical imaging needs.