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Behind the scenes at the Surf World Cup Made of tough stuff

Issue 02/2016

A treatment couch, a mobile ultrasound device, a well-stocked first aid kit , plus various tapes, supports, and orthoses – this is the equipment Dr. Karl-Heinz Kristen, Head of Sportsclinic Vienna, will once again be bringing with him to the Austrian town of Podersdorf on the shores of Lake Neusiedl in May 2016 to set up his (tent-based) beach clinic there for the Surf World Cup.

Dr. Karl-Heinz Kristen, Head of Sportsclinic Vienna.
Dr. Karl-Heinz Kristen, Head of Sportsclinic Vienna.

An expert in sports orthopedics, orthopedics, and orthopedic surgery, Dr. Kristen has been providing medical care for professional surfers for 25 years. Not only has the sport of surfing developed during this time, but injury patterns have changed too. “Broken ribs, for example, were common in kitesurfing in the early days,” Dr. Kristen recalls. “That’s partly because the trapeze harnesses weren’t optimally adapted for kites to begin with.”
Statistics show that , nowadays, acute injuries suffered during either kitesurfing or windsurfing are most likely to affect the ankle – but this is not just because of surfers landing hard on the water when they jump, as Dr. Kristen explains: “The surfer’s feet have to stay firmly fixed in the foot straps on the board in order to be able to perform the kinds of maneuvers involved in this type of sport. And then if the rotation isn’t quite 100 % right during a move, it’s easy to twist an ankle.” The second most common injuries are to the shoulders and knees, while the spine and elbows tend to be more susceptible to injuries caused by overuse. According to Dr. Kristen, the type and frequency of injuries suffered by surfers always depends not only on their surfing technique, but also on the rules of the sport: “In the freestyle discipline, for example, where jumps with a triple rotation score particularly high points, surfers train more – sometimes with consequences,” says the sports orthopedist. “Nevertheless, in spite of its spectacular maneuvers, surfing can be classed overall as a sport with a low risk of injury.”

Fit to compete?

“At the World Cup, the most important question as far as the athletes are con-cerned is ‘Can I carry on competing?’” says Dr. Kristen, “Sometimes they put up with an awful lot to carry on.” When treating athletes at the competition site, he likes to use supports and orthoses: “They’re great aids for protecting injured joints and structures.” During the competition, however, his first approach is to apply special tape that is suitable for use in water and can be worn under a wetsuit. “But as soon as the athletes get off their boards, they’re given a normal support or orthosis. That’s how it works on the professional tour. However, quite a few regular amateur surfers surf with supports on, because they provide stability and prevent sprains.” In terms of supports, he has already used virtually all the Train products available, especially the MalleoTrain for the ankle. “The Train supports are easy to use. They don’t take up much space, you can put them on and take them off quickly, and they are extremely practical in a surfing environment.” When it comes to dealing with cruciate or collateral ligament injuries in the knee, Dr. Kristen also rates the SecuTec Genu knee orthosis. One thing professional surfers appreciate about Dr. Kristen himself is that , aside from offering medical expertise, he also surfs himself and understands exactly what the sport requires.

Pctures: Photo Wilke, Dr. Kristen