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To contribute to health, we need to understand who we are treating
  1. David Hughes
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Hughes, Australian Institute of Sport, Australian Sports Commission, Leverrier Street, Bruce, ACT 2617, Australia; david.hughes{at}ausport.gov.au

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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” wrote Mark Twain. The more one travels, the more one realises that all human beings crave the same essential ingredients in life: safety, prosperity, the affection of others and good health. As healthcare professionals, we have the ability and opportunity to contribute to the good health of others. To make this contribution meaningful, however, we first need to understand the definitions of ‘health’ and ‘normal’.

Furthermore, to effectively intervene to improve the health of another, we need to understand how the particular health issue is impacting on the functional capacity of that individual. Two of my patients illustrated this point. The first was an elite level cyclist who had fallen off her bicycle a week prior, suffering a deep and long soft tissue laceration just below the knee, requiring extensive suturing and leaving a very impressive wound. The second athlete was a para-canoe athlete with a T6 level spinal lesion with painful blisters on both thumbs. The blisters had been caused by canoeing but were severe enough to now be causing difficulty with wheelchair mobility. At first glance, the blisters might have seemed relatively trivial compared to the cyclist’s leg wound. In terms of the potential threat to functional capacity; however, the blisters were a far more significant injury.

The concept of ‘health’ is multidimensional

In this ACSP issue, Jennifer Baldwin and colleagues (see page 1225 and 1226) discuss the concept of defining ‘health’. What may be a significant health issue to one individual may be quite insignificant to another. The concept of ‘health’ is relative and determined by a range of factors, including specific character traits, sociocultural factors and particular physical factors, which all have the potential to challenge the individual. Our understanding of ‘health’ must take into account the human experience. Baldwin and …

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