Dr. Andrei Krassioukov is travelling to the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games to research the effects of spinal cord injury (SCI) on the cardiovascular health of Paralympic athletes. He is a world expert on SCI and its connection to cardiovascular function. He is also an expert on the practice of boosting – intentional injury – that can increase blood pressure and may improve performance.
What will your research involve and what do you hope to learn?
My team will be holding education-research clinics for wheelchair athletes with SCI, and their coaches, to collect data related to the athletes’ cardiovascular health. Abnormal blood pressure is a common issue for individuals with SCI – it can be either extremely low or extremely high (a condition known as autonomic dysreflexia). There is increasing evidence that cardiovascular functions and specifically blood pressure and heart rate significantly affect wheelchair athletes’ performance. My goal is to ensure International Paralympics Committee classifications take into account the important variable of athletes’ cardiovascular and autonomic dysfunction.
Why would Paralympic athletes intentionally injure themselves to improve performance?
Injury to the spinal cord disrupts control of heart and blood vessels that are normally regulated by the autonomic nervous system that provides non-voluntary control to organs. Following SCI, blood pressure is typically low leading to fatigue and decreased performance. This creates significant disadvantages during competition, leading some athletes to use boosting through intentional injuries as a drastic measure to correct functions lost through injury.
What are the greatest risks of boosting this way?
Boosting is an extremely dangerous practice. Apart from the injuries inflicted, such as overfilling the bladder, fracturing toes or applying electric shocks to testicles, the greatest risk is the sudden spike in blood pressure and heart rate. The uncontrolled spikes could cause blood vessels in the eye to burst, stroke, heart attack or death.
Why do some athletes still practice this kind of boosting even though it was banned in 1994?
Paralympic athletes are first divided into categories based on disabilities, which determines who they will compete against and what sports they can participate in. They are further divided by the severity of their injuries and placed into an event with similarly challenged competitors.
Under the current system, depending on the sport, some athletes with different disabilities can compete in the same event. This is the motivation for boosting. My hope is that the proposed addition,to the classification–taking into account the athletes’ cardiovascular and autonomic dysfunction–would level the playing field for wheelchair athletes and eliminate the necessity for boosting.
Dr. Krassioukov is an professor in UBC’s Dept. of Medicine and co-director of the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD), part of Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI). He is also a physician-scientist at Vancouver Coastal Health’s GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre.
More information may be found here