One of the responsibilities that many sports medicine orthopaedists take on is providing medical coverage to local high school sports teams. I provide on-field coverage for two local high schools during football season, and through this experience I have learned how important it is for schools to have an athletic trainer on staff, not only for football, but for all sports.
One reason trainers are so important is because there is not a physician on hand to at every sporting event or practice, so trainers are usually the first line of medical care, often providing immediate treatment and initiating any necessary emergency pathways. Having a trainer who is educated in treatment of sports injuries can be invaluable in preventing athletes from sustaining more serious injuries from occurring, and can help avoid catastrophic consequences from serious injuries that do occur. Schools that rely on their coaches to perform the duties of a trainer are putting their athletes at risk – why consider leaving the treatment of concussions, neck injuries, or heat exhaustion up to people who often have no medical training?
On-field management of injuries is just a small portion of what athletic trainers do. In the training room they can provide immediate and in-season therapy for injuries and help athletes return to play faster. They also can recognize injuries that may need further workup and get those players in to see a physician.
Working with coaches to develop injury prevention programs can be another valuable role of trainers. A recent study investigated the role of a warm-up program in the prevention of injuries in female athletes. They divided participating women’s basketball and soccer teams into two groups – the study group in which they instructed the coaches on how to lead their teams through a specific neuromuscular warm up routine, and a control group in which they did not intervene and let the coaches do whatever they had always done. They followed both groups for one season and tracked all lower extremity injuries. The study group showed a significant reduction in all major lower extremity injuries, including ACL tears (6 in the control group needed ACL surgery and 0 in the study group).
While in this study the warm up was led by the coaches, it would be more feasible and more economical for trainers who have education in such programs to design and teach all of their school’s coaches how to implement them. The number of injuries that could be prevented with these types of programs is astounding.
There are still schools that either can’t afford or choose not to have an athletic trainer. Here in Louisville, Norton Healthcare and Norton Sports Health, along with KORT and Star physical therapy have partnered with Jefferson County Public Schools to place trainers in many local schools. I hope through this partnership we will be able to begin to institute some of these injury prevention techniques to help keep our local athletes safer. As is the case with most things in medicine, prevention is a more effective strategy than treatment.