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Sport and disability

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0407275
  1. Nick Webborn, sports physician1
  1. 1Esperance Private Hospital, Hartington Place, Eastbourne, East Sussex, The Sussex centre for sports and exercise medicine, University of Brighton

Caring for athletes with disabilities is a challenge for sports medicine practitioners. Scientific research in sport and exercise medicine for people with disabilities is surprisingly sparse considering the inspirational achievements of these athletes, says A D J Webborn

The achievements of athletes with disabilities remain largely unknown to most people. A high jump of nearly two metres by a person who has had a leg amputated, or less than an hour and a half for the wheelchair marathon, show that people with disabilities are capable of considerable athletic performance. It is important that these achievements should be recognised by the medical profession for two major reasons. Firstly, that these people are athletes in their own right who have their own sports medicine needs. Secondly, to help alter attitudes to patients with disabilities, in relation to physical activity, in which many doctors are restrictive rather than prescriptive with exercise.

General health

The beneficial effects of exercise are well established in relation to general health and in regard to prevention or management of specific disease processes--for example, non-insulin dependent diabetes. People with physical disabilities are less likely to avail themselves of these benefits for a variety of reasons that include cultural and social factors, facilities, and access. Participation in sport is not essential but it is important that people with disabilities are encouraged to remain physically active. Accumulating evidence shows that people with disabilities who are more physically active visit doctors less and have fewer medical complications and hospitalisations than their sedentary counterparts. Paraplegic athletes are more successful than non-athletes in avoiding major medical complications of spinal cord injury. The same message of the accumulation of at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on at least five days of the week is equally applicable to someone with a disability. The same principles of …

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