The Pro

Getting people up and moving

Dr Teoh is also a qualified acupuncturist who uses the TCM therapy to treat patients who are in pain or have muscle problems.
Dr Teoh is also a qualified acupuncturist who uses the TCM therapy to treat patients who are in pain or have muscle problems.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Sports physician Teoh Chin Sim tells Joan Chew that exercise can increase brain volume

Q. I specialise in sports medicine because...

A. Work is like play to me. My patients generally want to return to an active lifestyle after suffering injuries.

Others seek to optimise their level of fitness and health.

Being active means one needs to be healthy as a pre-requisite.

I work to create a positive environment for those who come with concerns about their health and injuries.

  • Bio Box


    AGE: 51

    OCCUPATION: Director and senior consultant of the Sports Medicine Centre at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

    Dr Teoh obtained her Master in Sports Medicine (Honours) from the United States in 1994, becoming the first female sports medicine specialist in Singapore.

    A qualified acupuncturist, she uses the traditional Chinese medicine therapy to treat patients who are in pain, or have muscle tightness, stiffness and numbness.

    She has been the attending team physician to national athletes at the South-East Asian (SEA), Asian, Commonwealth and Paralympic games for over two decades.

    She was Chief Medical Officer for Team Singapore at the SEA Games and Asean Para Games 2015.

    Dr Teoh, who is single, will be going to the Rio Paralympic Games this September as a member of the International Paralympic Committee's Anti-Doping Committee.

I help to restore their confidence so that they can get back on their feet.

Occasionally, I may have to play the "bad guy" and limit my patient's exercise regimen or remove him from competitive sport - either temporarily or permanently - for his own good.

Q. The musculoskeletal system is fascinating because...

A. It gives human beings strength, speed, endurance, power and agility that help us to walk, run, climb and jump, yet it can be so fragile.

A mere sneeze may cause a disc herniation which can impinge on a nerve root and cause severe debilitating pain, weakness and numbness, making it almost impossible to move at all. But this is not common.

Q. One little-known fact about exercise is...

A. It can increase brain volume and retard brain shrinkage.

In a study conducted on a group of people over 70 years old, regular aerobic exercise has been shown to result in a small increase in the size of the hippocampus (a part of the brain that is involved in memory).

Another study of 638 people in Scotland found that those who were physically active at 70 years of age experienced less brain shrinkage than those who were not.

These findings show that it is never too late nor too early to start exercising.

Q. If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I would...

A. Be a head contractor. I do what I can to remedy a patient's problem and, where necessary, bring other medical experts in for their opinion or further treatment of the patient.

It may be bewildering for a patient to be passed through so many hands, but I always remain the physician-in-charge, who has a bird's-eye view of the patient and the problem.

Q. A typical day for me...

A. Starts at 6.15am when I try to beat the school traffic outside my home to get to the hospital for a 7.30am teaching session.

I am with patients all day at the clinic and meet colleagues for discussions at lunch or after clinic hours.

I generally knock off between 6.30pm and 7.30pm.

On my shorter workdays, I go for a jog or take a long walk along East Coast Park or around MacRitchie Reservoir.

After work and during the weekends, I may catch my patients at a game of rugby or soccer, or drop in at a gym or studio to learn a new activity such as pole dancing.

From time to time, I take conference calls late into the night as I am a member of an international hearing panel for doping in sports matters.

My mother and brother live in Malaysia, so I either drive or fly up to see them from time to time.

Q. I have come across all types of cases...

A. From a six-year-old who wanted to know if he was eating the right food for his level of physical activity, to a 72-year-old frustrated by his slow progress in returning to water sports after a rather bad ankle injury.

I remember having to negotiate with a teenage long-distance runner who had swollen legs.

He was training too much, and he was also not eating and sleeping enough.

We came to an agreement to rein him in and get him to eat more, sleep more and train less.

He complied and his problem was solved.

Q. I love patients who are...

A. Motivated and disciplined. They listen to medical advice to improve their health and aid their recovery. It is a joy to see them progress in their healthcare journey.

Q. Patients who get my goat...

A. Fortunately, there aren't too many. Those who especially irk me are those who get caught trying to pull a fast one on me.

I once had a patient who said he had hurt his back very badly and winced in great pain during the physical examination. But when he thought I was not looking, he bent over easily to put on his socks and shoes.

As a doctor, I expect patients to tell the truth so that I can better diagnose the problem and advise them on the appropriate treatment for their benefit.

Q. It breaks my heart when...

A. I detect something sinister during a regular sports medicine consultation because it means that my patient would require further investigations and have to deal with more sobering life issues.

For instance, cancer may necessitate surgery and, possibly, even losing a limb.

My hope for such an athlete is that he can continue to compete and enjoy sports without too much compromise.

Q. My best tip...

A. Those who want to fit exercise into their busy schedule can choose to expend energy while going about their daily chores.

Try walking at the MacRitchie Reservoir with a friend next time as an alternative to gathering around a table filled with calorie-laden food and drinks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'Getting people up and moving'. Print Edition | Subscribe