From Acupuncture to Ozone Therapy: Exploring Uses of Complementary and Alternative Medicines in Elite Sport

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Catherine COVENEY, De Montfort University, United Kingdom
Jonathan GABE, Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom
Alex FAULKNER, Global Health, Sussex University, Brighton, United Kingdom
Participation in sport, especially at the elite level, places athletes at a significant risk of musculoskeletal injury. Athletes face extreme pressures to consistently perform at the top of their game, strive to improve their performance ‘naturally’ and return to play quickly after sustaining injury. There is a broad range of therapeutic options available to elite athletes, from novel cutting edge biomedical therapies and more established biomedical, surgical techniques and physiotherapy to a wide range of other non-orthodox therapies. However, little is known about how these different treatment options are selected and evaluated and their uses negotiated in practice.

We draw on data from interviews with 27 leading sports medicine physicians (including doctors, physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons) working in elite football and cycling in the UK. During interviews we asked specifically about the incidence and management of musculoskeletal injuries and considered factors influencing decision-making including both formal treatment protocols and pathways and informal healing practices that they were engaged in.

Our aims in this paper are to examine (i) when non-orthodox therapies are considered as a therapeutic option in elite sport (ii) why elite athletes (and/or their medical teams) turn to these therapies in the management of sports injuries, and (iii) how they are positioned in relation to orthodox biomedical therapies. We end by reflecting on whether current CAM/biomedicine theories adequately account for the use of non-orthodox therapies in the context of elite sport medicine.