Story: Sports medicine and drugs

If you were injured in a 19th-century boxing bout there was unlikely to be a doctor around to help you. In the 2000s professional sports teams have their own doctors and other medical professionals to help keep them in top form. However, the pressure to succeed has sometimes led sportspeople to use banned drugs to help them win.

Story by Peter Clayworth
Main image: Physio on the cricket field

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Types of sports medicine

Sports medicine is medical care of sportspeople and the treatment of sports injuries. Sports medicine practitioners include:

  • doctors, who deal with injuries and other medical aspects of players’ health
  • physiotherapists, who use techniques such as exercise and massage to treat injuries and prevent future injuries
  • massage therapists, who use massage to encourage relaxation and healing
  • sports nutritionists, who design diets for sportspeople.

History of sports medicine

Doctors or other medical practitioners were not usually present at sports events in the 19th century. In the late 1880s the Order of St John began to train first aiders, and they started to attend sports events to help anyone who was hurt.

For most of the 20th century team doctors were volunteers. From the 1990s professional sports teams began hiring medical professionals, including doctors and physiotherapists.

From around 1970 people became more concerned about sports injuries and took steps, such as making rule changes, to help prevent players getting hurt.

Sports doping and drug testing

A small number of sportspeople (less than 1% in New Zealand) have used banned drugs to help them perform better. Drug Free Sport New Zealand works to stop this, and tests New Zealand sportspeople to make sure they aren’t using banned substances.

Drug cheating

Some 19th-century athletes used drugs such as caffeine, alcohol and opium to improve their performance. This wasn’t against the rules at first, and there was no regular testing for drugs in New Zealand until 1989.

Some prominent sportspeople have been caught doping, or have confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs. Several New Zealand athletes have been beaten by sportspeople who later were found to have been using drugs to cheat. One example is Valerie Adams, who came second in the shot put at the 2012 Olympics, but she later received the gold medal when Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus failed a drug test.

How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Sports medicine and drugs', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/sports-medicine-and-drugs (accessed 21 September 2018)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 5 Sep 2013