Mayo doctor, physician for Team USA hockey, ready for Sochi

Now that the football season is over, we can turn our attention to winter sports. The Olympics open on Friday. Minnesotans are well-represented at the games, not only on the ice and snow, but also in the training room.

We reached Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon Michael Stuart. For the third Winter Olympics in a row, he is the team physician for the U.S.A. men's hockey team. He joined us by phone from Sochi.

Phil Picardi: So how do you get that gig?

Michael Stuart: Well, I've been involved with U.S.A. hockey for a long time --- I'm the chief medical officer, I'm a member of their safety and protective equipment committee, and I've been part of U.S.A. hockey as a team physician for many years at a variety of world championships and the Olympic games.

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Picardi: What are the most common ailments that you treat among hockey players?

Stuart: Well, it's interesting for the Olympics, because we have a roster of NHL players who have been battling in their own league, so many of them come with some existing injuries that myself and our training staff will deal with. At the Olympic games, of course we're concerned about the common hockey injuries -- things like concussion, injury to the shoulder and knee.

Picardi: Well what about U.S.A.'s players are NHLers as you mention. They make millions of dollars. Their teams have an interest in keeping them healthy. How do you balance the needs of team U.S.A., the expectations of those NHL teams, and the desire of players who might want to play with some pulls or bruises?

Stuart: Well it is an interesting dynamic --- the NHL is very involved in the Olympic games. There will be NHL representatives there. Our players will compete right up until the time they leave for Sochi. Many of our players will have games on Saturday night, leave on Sunday, arrive on Monday when we have our first practice. So, we do have a responsibility to maintain open lines of communication with the medical staff for each NHL team, in addition to their general manager during the games.

Picardi: There is so much focus these days on the long-term health effects of contact sports like hockey, like football, on players. What are the biggest changes that you've seen in hockey recently?

Stuart: Hockey has been very proactive, including U.S.A. hockey, the NHL has also made some strides. We all realize that contact sports carry risk. The big concern of course has been concussion and cervical spine injury. There's been many programs designed to reduce the risk of injury. You may be familiar with the Heads Up Don't Duck program, which teaches our young athletes how to avoid head contact with the boards. And if they are going to contact the boards, to keep their head up to minimize the risk of cervical spine injury. Concussion is a concern. There's been new focus on enforcement of existing rules to avoid hits to the head and other dangerous activities such as boarding, charging and checking from behind.

Picardi: I would think practicing medicine in Russia at the Sochi games might be a little different than how you'd do it here in the U.S. or in Rochester. Is that correct? Stuart: Definitely. I was fortunate enough to travel to Sochi in April as a representative of the International Ice Hockey Federation, where I toured the medical facilities and also gave a workshop to the medical care providers in Sochi. The facilities and equipment are certainly very up-to-date. The local trauma facility was under construction at the time, so I'm anxious to get there and make sure that everything is in place. I know that the United States Olympic Committee will have a top-notch medical team, which I'll be a member of, and collectively, we will provide the highest quality of care for all our U.S.A. athletes.

Picardi: How about security? That's a big issue that people are talking about with the Sochi games just around the corner. Now, are you concerned about how the Russians have handled security?

Stuart: Well to be honest, my family and friends are a bit concerned, but I'm not. I think that the Russian government and of course the U.S. state department, the FBI, the CIA --- there's many people involved. That collection of people in one location certainly raises concerns in that part of the world, yet the Olympic Village for example, where myself and the athletes will be staying, will be extremely secure.

Picardi: Alright. Dr. Stuart, good luck in Russia.

Stuart: Thank you very much.