young athlete playing tennis

This tool is an athlete’s best friend, but it doesn’t fit in a gym bag

A vital part of succeeding as an athlete is being able to show up healthy and perform at your best. That’s why having the right kind of health care is vital to athletes of all kinds, whether you’re a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior or you just play the sport of life, and you want to be able to enjoy evening walks and chasing your grandkids around the backyard.

OSF HealthCare understands the need for sports medicine services and how big their impact can be. OSF HealthCare specialists are helping athletes every day to avoid injuries or return to the game as quickly as can be done safely following an injury.

The first line of defense

Athletic trainers typically serve as the most visible member of a sports medicine team. In LaSalle County, Illinois and in Escanaba, Michigan, for two examples, OSF HealthCare has contracts with local high schools and colleges to provide athletic trainer services to their sports teams.

football players on field

“These services can greatly benefit the schools we work with,” said Bradley Yates, the athletic trainer supervisor for OSF Medical Group – Ottawa Orthopedics. “Athletic trainers provide the school with a health care professional whose sole job is the health and safety of the student athletes.

“Our athletic trainers cover a vast majority of the practices and home games at their assigned schools. It would not be surprising for them to be one of the first people present to set up for the event and one of the last ones to leave.”

School sports teams receive several benefits from having an athletic trainer around.

Trainers can:

  • Help create or review a facility Emergency Action Plan
  • Help coordinate the emergency care and transportation of athletes
  • Provide injury care, evaluation, follow-up treatment, and rehabilitation for athlete injuries
  • Help with the selection and fitting of braces and other protective equipment, and can provide taping for the support of various injuries
  • Help to determine when an athlete may safely return back to full participation
  • Help develop conditioning programs and nutritional plans, and provide education on best practices for injury prevention
  • Serve as a health care liaison, connecting the athletes to the correct OSF provider, department or specialty they need

An athletic trainer could help save an athlete and their parents time and money by not needing to utilize an ED for simple sprains and strains that can be taken care of at the school or by advising the proper level of care when further medical expertise is needed.

athletic trainer icing a football player's knee

Yates and his team of athletic trainers in north-central Illinois are part of the OSF HealthCare orthopedics practice and clinics in Ottawa, Streator and Mendota. That helps create an unbroken continuum of care for athletes who need orthopedic surgery to treat an injury. Trainers can help communicate vital information about injury cases to the surgeons. They also fit patients with any prescribed medical equipment, splinting or casting they require. The trainers also help athletes through the recovery and rehabilitation process and get back to their sport.

In Escanaba, Michigan, however, the athletic trainers work under the supervision of a sports medicine physician, instead of orthopedic surgeons. It’s another team model that in its first few months in Michigan has already proved to be effective.

Sports medicine thrives in an active community

Keirsten Smith, MD, has already seen how popular a sports medicine physician can be in an active community like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s a place where weekend warriors take advantage of nature’s abundance and a focus on family helps drive the popularity of youth sports.

“Being active is a big part of the culture around here, and sports medicine is a specialty that is really filling a need in the community,” Dr. Smith said.

A sports medicine physician is a trained physician who has also completed a sports medicine fellowship, developing the skills to provide the non-surgical treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. What does “musculoskeletal” mean? It’s just a fancy word for your muscles and bones and their relationship to each other.

For Dr. Smith, her sports medicine training came from her experience treating some of the most finely tuned top-level college athletes at the University of Alabama.

sports medicine specialist working in gym with student athlete

Sports medicine physicians are experts at treating the following musculoskeletal injuries:

But Dr. Smith’s expertise goes beyond musculoskeletal injuries. As a sports medicine physician, she also deals with several aspects of athlete health and performance, including:

  • Concussions and other head injuries
  • Chronic or acute illness (such as infectious mononucleosis, asthma or diabetes)
  • Nutrition, supplements, ergogenic aids and performance issues
  • Injury prevention
  • “Return to play” decisions for sick or injured athletes
  • Recommendations on safe strength training and conditioning exercise regimens
  • Healthy lifestyle promotion

Dr. Smith’s services have become very popular since she began practicing in Escanaba in mid-2019. She has treated competitive athletes from young children to adults, and has treated non-athletes looking to improve their quality of life.

As athletes get back to activity after a year of COVID-19 cancelations and rescheduled seasons, an increase in chronic injuries has created an especially strong need for injury treatment and highlighted the importance of expert guidance to help athletes return to sports safely.

If you suffer an injury that hampers your ability to move like you need, ask your health care provider if a sports medicine physician, orthopedic surgeon or athletic trainer can help you stay in the game.

Last Updated: February 11, 2022

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Physical Therapy, Preventive Health