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Athlete Health

The UK Sports Institute (UKSI) Athlete Health Directorate was created at the start of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Cycle (2017-2021) to support all aspects of high performance athletes’ physical and mental health.

The central Athlete Health team works closely with UK Sports Institute and World Class Programme (WCP) Sports and Exercise Medicine (SEM) Specialist Doctors and Physiotherapists, who are the primary health providers within the UK High Performance System’s (HPS). The athlete health teams also work closely with other disciplines and directorates who provide health related expertise and support.

About the Athlete Health Team

Dr Craig Ranson became the UK Sports Institute’s first Director of Athlete Health in December 2016, the appointment reflecting the growing recognition of the performance and wellbeing benefits of minimising the impact of injury and illness on athletes’ availability and readiness to train and compete.

The Athlete Health team works to identify and support management of priority health problems within individual athletes, specific Olympic and Paralympic sports and across the UK HPS. This core team provides benefits in being able to undertake work many WCP couldn’t do alone, whilst enabling the sharing of innovations and good practice between the Olympic and Paralympic sports.

The four Tokyo cycle focus areas for the Athlete Health team are:

1) Developing the Performance Data Management System (PDMS)

2015 saw the launch of PDMS, a bespoke medical records and health surveillance system designed and implemented by the UK Sports Institute in partnership with Rocketmakers.  The Athlete Health team has responsibility for the development and governance of PDMS providing the HPS world-leading athlete health information that can be interrogated to inform health management programmes and evaluate their effectiveness.

A dedicated team supports PDMS and works to develop its features consultation with UK Sports Institute & WCP staff. This allows for PDMS to be tailored for the HPS, enabling efficient and secure medical record keeping. The 2019 release of built-in Athlete Health Dashboards enables practitioners on the ground to have quick and accurate updating and reporting of their sport’s most important health information.

Another PDMS feature widely used across the HPS is the AER(availability, effort and recovery) monitoring App. Athletes directly input daily AER information via their smart-phones so that Coaches and support staff can dynamically manage performance and health programmes. The flexibility of PDMS and the AER App allows the UK Sports Institute to individually tailor information and questions for each WCP.

2) Athlete Mental Health

In 2018 the UK Sports Institute  and UK Sport announced a Mental Health Strategy for the High Performance System aimed at ensuring have the best opportunity to have positive mental health, and high quality care when required. A dedicated UK Sports Institute Mental Health Team was formed to drive implementation of the strategy, working with WCPs to develop education programmes and mental health support planning for athletes, coaches and support staff.

The team’s work is supported by a Mental Health Expert Panel composed of leading sport psychiatrists and clinical psychologists who are on hand to inform best practice service development and provide advice on complex case management.

3) Female Athlete Health

Working closely with the UK Sports Institute Physiology team on the SmartHER campaign, this wide-ranging work has opened up conversations amongst athletes, coaches and staff in high performance sport around female athlete health and performance. The influence of the menstrual cycle and its cyclic physiological and emotional effects has been central to discussions, as well as offering expertise to help female athletes be healthy in delivering world class performances.

Roadshow events for staff and athletes have taken place to educate on the potential performance impact that can be achieved by adjusting or supporting training programmes. Examples of discussion and advice include menstrual health, female physiology, hormonal contraception, RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sports), menstrual cycle monitoring and menstrual cycle symptom management.

Education for female athletes on optimal breast health during sport and bespoke work with athletes and WCPs to find optimal sport bra solutions is also taking place, with the UK Sports Institute working alongside world leading experts.

The UK Sports Institute Athlete Health, Performance Nutrition and Physiology teams are also collaborating with Performance Innovation to develop technology that can monitor female hormones whose levels can inform health and training decisions.

4) Respiratory Health

In 2017 the Athlete Health Intelligence team identified respiratory illness as the health problem that has the greatest impact on athlete availability for preparation and performance. Initiatives aimed at reducing that burden include the system-wide Systematic Assessment of Respiratory Athlete Health (SARAH) Project and targeted illness prevention campaigns.

Within the SARAH project, between November 2018 and June 2019 collaboration between SEM Doctors and the UK Sports Institute Respiratory Health Team saw around 150 athletes susceptible to respiratory illness undergo total airway profiling and illness management optimisation. Subsequently, a 2016 to 2018 average of 8-days of restricted training per respiratory illness has reduced to less than 5 in the year to June 2019. It is envisaged that the results could have wider public application with respiratory illness being a major economic and healthcare concern in the UK.

A 2018/19 Winter respiratory health campaign that saw 1000 education and resource festive packs distributed to WCP athletes in December 2018. This was associated with 41% less upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) recorded in the 4-weeks post-Christmas 2018/19 (34) compared to the 2018/18 post-Christmas period (58).

To find out more about our Athlete Health Team and how the UK Sports Institute can help you, get in touch today.