When athletic powerhouse Serena Williams steps onto the tennis court at the 2015 U.S. Open, Alexis Colvin, MD, will be on hand, ready to provide medical care to Ms. Williams and the rest of the athletes, should any orthopaedic issues arise.
Dr. Colvin, who acts as a United States Tennis Association (USTA) physician during the U.S. Open, is also the chief medical officer for the USTA, team physician for the U.S. Fed Cup team, and an associate professor of sports medicine in the department of orthopaedic surgery at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. As a sports medicine specialist, Dr. Colvin relishes her work with the USTA, and aims to help tennis players of all levels improve their playing ability while avoiding injuries.
Helping athletes excel
A lifelong sports enthusiast, Dr. Colvin grew up playing tennis and rowed crew in high school.
“Right now, I have three little boys, so I play a lot of sports with them,” she said.
Dr. Colvin was drawn to sports medicine because of her desire to help improve patients’ quality of life.
“I definitely like helping return patients to the things they love doing,” she said.
She devotes a significant amount of her time to treating tennis players of all levels. “As chief medical officer for the USTA, I have multiple responsibilities, which include helping establish the best practices for the organization,” she said. “One major project has been the implementation of an electronic medical record (EMR) system for the USTA Pro Circuit. Implementing an EMR for a sport obviously entails many differences from that of a medical practice, so it’s certainly been a learning experience.
“Another responsibility of the position involves educating athletes,” she continued. “When you think of tennis, you tend to think of the U.S. Open and the major tournaments, and that’s part of it, but there’s also a very large population of community-based players and those who play at the junior level. So, a lot of my work has been to help educate those nonprofessional players and their parents, who don’t have access to coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists, and other professionals. It’s important that they understand how to stay prepared for matches, and to know about things such as recovery and nutrition.”
Because tennis is not a contact or a collision sport, most of the injuries sustained by players are due to overuse. According to Dr. Colvin, repetitive stress—in the shoulders, elbows, and other body parts—is one of the most common culprits that can lead to debilitating problems in avid tennis players, from amateur players all the way to elite competitors.
“A point that I continue to emphasize is that to get better at tennis, you don’t necessarily want to play tennis 7 days a week,” she said. “It really is about total body conditioning, and doing cross-training to build flexibility, speed, and strength. Doing those other activities can help you become a better tennis player, and I think that’s probably true across all sports.”
Competing at home and abroad
As team physician for the U.S. Fed Cup team, Dr. Colvin travels to at least two week-long tournaments every year. Last February, she travelled to Argentina with the team to provide medical care to the athletes and she accompanied the team to Italy in April.
“The Fed Cup is an intimate setting because it’s just the four players (with potentially an alternate), the hitting partner, a massage therapist, a racquet stringer, a physical therapist, as well as the captain of the team, Mary Jo Fernandez, who was a former top 10 player and is currently a commentator for ESPN,” she said. “It’s just a much different setting than the USTA, so it’s fun to have the contrast between the two.”
While in Argentina, Dr. Colvin enjoyed working with Dr. Javier Maquirriain, an orthopaedic surgeon and president of the Society for Tennis Medicine and Science, an international nonprofit organization focused on medical, performance, and injury prevention issues.
“I will never forget how welcoming and helpful he was, even though I was speaking pretty broken Spanish,” she said. “It was rewarding to work together toward the same goal, which was to provide care for the athletes. It certainly reinforced to me how sport can be a common language that transcends boundaries.”
The U.S. Open, she said, is “fun to work at because it’s such an international event. There are players from so many different countries, as well as coaches, trainers, and physical therapists. It’s great to have the opportunity to interact with them.”
Along with the major tournaments, explained Dr. Colvin, the USTA also sponsors a Pro Circuit for up-and-coming tennis players who need to accumulate points to get a ranking.
“There are Pro Circuit tournaments going on almost every week during the tennis season, which starts in January and continues through early December, so there’s almost no off season,” she explained. “Although athletic trainers cover those events as well as a physician, I am ‘on-call’ for any tournament going on in the United States if there is an issue that has to be brought to a higher level.”
Although it requires a significant amount of dedication and effort, Dr. Colvin finds it very rewarding to help guide the care of tennis players.
“I would absolutely encourage other orthopaedists who are interested to pursue becoming team physicians,” she said.
Jennie McKee is a senior science writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org