Eating disorders can impact athletes

Eight million Americans are estimated to be suffering from eating disorders. It is not surprising that many of them are athletes.

There are three forms of eating disorders:

Anorexia nervosa — a distorted body image creating a belief of being overweight despite profound weight loss.

Bulimia — a cycle of binging and purging.

Compulsive exercise — excessive and addictive exercise in an attempt to control or lose weight.

Athletes are typically dedicated and highly motivated. These personality traits, when combined with the positive reinforcement of improved athletic performance, make athletes particularly susceptible to eating disorders. It also makes diagnosis more difficult.

Eating disorders are most often seen in sports that rely on individual performance and light weight. Some examples are: rowing, horse racing, ice skating, dance and wrestling. While the vast majority of athletes who suffer from eating disorders are women, it is not uncommon to diagnose it in men.

The female triad consists of three principal symptoms that suggest the presence of an eating disorder including: fatigue, menstrual irregularity and weak bones.

“Eating disorders are complex and often not simply the reaction to a comment made by a coach or judge about weight,” said Dr. Jeff Anderson, Director of Sports Medicine at the University of Connecticut. Anderson believes that athletes prone to an eating disorder are drawn to a particular sport.

Compulsive exercise can be seen in adults who discover the physical benefits of exercise, including weight loss. Symptoms of compulsive exercise include exercising despite injury, ignoring family and business obligations to exercise and a fear that missing a day of exercise will result in weight gain.

Parents, coaches and friends must be alert to the possibility of an eating disorder in an athlete and direct them to get appropriate attention.

KJ Life tourney celebrates athlete

Among the greatest rewards in the world of sports is being able to compete purely for the joy of the contest. That simple joy is often lost as athletes move forward in their sports. The stakes get higher and the pressure increases.

This past weekend, more than 500 young people in Glastonbury re-discovered the pleasure of playing a sport for fun. They participated in the second annual KJ Life Flag Football Tournament.

This tournament is held each year in memory of Kenneth Joyce, who passed away in a skiing accident two years ago. The tournament raises money for youth leadership programs.

Like ultimate Frisbee, floor hockey and disc golf, flag football is a “cult” sport. It is played on open fields by students from elementary to graduate school levels. Teams vary in number and gender of players.

As in the traditional game, the goal is to run or pass the football until a touchdown is scored. Forward progress is stopped when a flag is removed from the waist of an opposing player. Plays are generally designed as the game develops.

While coaching and instruction are usually helpful, they can also be overdone. There are no coaches in the KJ Life Tournament, but officials are provided for each of the games.

“Players of any skill level can enjoy the game of flag football. All you need to do is know how to throw and catch,” said Pat Curry, a volunteer official. According to Curry, tournaments like this are a step back in time to the days of sandlot sports.

Flag football is an outstanding way to encourage fitness and fair play. A tournament like KJ Life is also a great way to memorialize the spirit of a young athlete who has inspired so many others.

Don’t overlook the importance of bike seats

Along with fair weather and extended daylight hours comes an opportunity for increased fitness activities. Many have already begun to tune up their bicycles in preparation for an evening ride or a daily commute.

An often overlooked but essential component to any tune-up or purchase is the bicycle seat.
The perineum is the anatomic region located at the base of the pelvis. It absorbs the pressure of the torso on a standard bicycle seat. Irritation from a poorly-fitted bicycle seat and inappropriate attire can be painful. In addition, impaired blood flow to reproductive organs can lead to dysfunction.

Lance Armstrong’s battle with testicular cancer has raised suspicion of a correlation between cycling and this potentially deadly disease. No clear relationship has ever been established in the scientific literature.

Pressure on the pudendal nerves and arteries reduces sensation and circulation to male genitalia. Longer rides can result in persistent symptoms and urinary tract difficulties in both men and women.

Bicycles seats have evolved from rudimentary cushions with springs to high-tech leather saddles that can cost up to $500.

“Many people make the crucial mistake of buying a wide seat thinking it is more comfortable. Unfortunately, the extra width places painful traction on the pelvis after an extended ride,” said Tom Girard, sales manager at Zane’s Cycles in Branford.

One of the newer design innovations includes an indentation that runs the length of the seat to accommodate nerves and blood vessels.

Girard recommends purchasing a seat that fits the individual, based on some simple measurements. Many companies sell padded shorts designed to fit the style of the seat.

When choosing the components for a new bicycle or tuning up an old favorite, careful attention to the seat can make a cycling workout much more comfortable.

Sports medicine technology showcased

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) met last week in Baltimore – a gathering of thousands of physicians, athletic trainers, exercise physiologists and other professionals involved in sports medicine.

Meetings like this also provide an opportunity for exhibitors to display the latest innovations in sports medicine.

New technology in the area of athletic footwear was prominent. Specifically, shoe inserts and shoe design have undergone radical changes. The newest design has been popularized by brands like MBT, Sketchers, Reebok, New Balance, Nike and Clarks. Allowing for slight variations, these shoes have a rounded, bowed sole and are reported to add an extra element to any workout, allowing more calories to be burned.

Many of the new designs are attempting to emulate a sensation of walking on sand. This allows for the small bones, muscles and tendons of the feet to continue moving. It also creates a soft surface when the foot impacts the ground.

These changes in structure are a sharp diversion from rigid inserts that are designed for more support and restricted movement. Many foot and ankle specialists are skeptical of the claim that these new shoes will help burn calories but agree that they are probably a good investment from the standpoint of comfort.

Nutritional supplements continue to receive a lot of attention. Gatorade has a system of beverages to be used before, during and after competition. Power Bar now has a variety of calorie replacement products and improved flavors.

The field of computerized cognitive testing was an area of interest as health professionals search for better ways of tracking athletes who have suffered concussions. Cog State, the makers of Cog Sport, demonstrated several changes to its program.

As new health care products come to market, it is always wise to get advice before making a large investment.

Athletes can overcome migraine headaches

Migraine headaches affect 28 million Americans. While it is not surprising that many migraine sufferers are also athletes, participation in sports presents a therapeutic challenge.

Migraine headaches are best defined as recurrent headaches that can last anywhere from four to 72 hours. Symptoms include pulsating head pain sometimes accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, along with nausea and vomiting.

The intense pain of a migraine episode can be precipitated and aggravated by head trauma and physical exertion. Understandably, those factors present tremendous obstacles to effective treatment in athletes. Other causes of migraines include changes in diet, erratic sleep habits and changes in altitude.

Migraine appears to be a disorder involving both the nerves and blood vessels of the brain. After a triggering event, a chemical cascade begins, resulting in dilation of blood vessels in the brain and stretching of nerve endings. The goal of treatment is interrupting or avoiding the chemical cascade before the onset of pain.

Assuring the optimal health and performance of athletes is the responsibility of all sports medicine professionals. Rapid, effective intervention can make the difference in winning or losing a decisive contest.

Terrell Davis, a known migraine sufferer, serves as a good example. In Super Bowl XXXII he was kicked in the head during the second quarter. This triggered a visual aura followed by a headache. The aura left him visually impaired and he was unable to play. At halftime, he was treated with intranasal DHE, a vasoconstrictive medication, and returned in the fourth quarter to become MVP. He later became a spokesman for that medication.

Many effective medications are available for the treatment of migraine but the best approach is often a combination of medications and a regular daily routine.