Sports medicine is a specialised field that deals with preventing, diagnosing and treating various conditions related to sports activities.

It’s important for both professional athletes and anybody who participates in sports – from trail running to mountain biking.

“This specialty is actually more for the weekend warriors than it is for the elite athletes,” says Dr Konrad von Hagen, a GP, sports physician and former team doctor for the Springboks. “In any sport, elite athletes are just a small percentage of the people who participate. I see elite athletes in my practice, but I see many more amateurs.”

As an amateur, you may not set any world records, but you’re still putting your body under severe strain during events and training sessions – and, as Dr Von Hagen points out, you’re often doing so without expert input. “Elite athletes have support teams, whereas the weekend warriors are on their own,” he says. “You might belong to a club or get advice from friends, but you need a qualified sports doctor to help you manage your fitness correctly.”

Sports doctors like Dr Von Hagen assist their patients with detailed training plans, advising them how to train, what to prioritise, when to rest, and how to ensure they’re in peak condition for the big events. “Nutritional advice is also very important,” he adds. “For mountain bikers (MTBs) especially, you need to know what to take on your bike, and how to keep fuelling your body during the longer races.”

Bespoke advice for mountain biking

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, MTBs, like all athletes, have become more conscious of the risks of training or competing when recovering from an illness. “The pandemic made people a lot more aware of this,” Dr Von Hagen says. “Sometimes it can take a long time before you’ve fully recovered from a viral illness, so the correct medical advice is key. How should you get treated? When should you restart your training? How do you step that up to get back to where you were before your illness? Sports doctors can answer those questions for you.”

For MTBs, though, the biggest benefit of consulting a sports physician is knowing that you’re being treated by someone with experience in dealing with sports-specific injuries. After all, if there’s one thing every rider knows, it’s what it feels like to fall off the bike!

“There are two kinds of mountain bikers,” Dr Von Hagen says: “Those who have already fallen off their bike, and those who are going to fall off their bike! We see a lot of injuries, but most of the time they’re just bumps, bruises and abrasions. We can manage those without the need for surgery, but you do also get bad falls where the patient will require surgery to repair a broken bone or two.”

Injuries are common in mountain biking, whether you’re a casual rider or a professional. In either case, it’s reassuring to have access to a doctor who has experience with the specific injuries that can occur in this sport.