I was asked to write this blog post because I am in the unique position of not only working at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the hospital but also being the parent of a very active 13 year old who plays several sports.
Our center just recently published a study on basketball injuries in high school athletes. We looked at injuries treated by an athletic trainer versus injuries treated in hospital emergency departments . The research found that injuries that are more easily diagnosed and treated, such as sprains and strains, were more likely to be treated onsite by an athletic trainer while more serious injuries, such as broken bones, were more commonly treated in EDs. However, the study also noted that only about 42% of high schools have athletic trainers onsite and this numbers is likely even lower for middle schools.
This research was directly relevant to me as my son has had several sports-related injuries – including a basketball injury that caused him to sit out for more than 6 weeks.
He was playing in a weekend basketball tournament. He got bumped, fell backward and caught himself with his arms. When his coach went over and “tested” his arm everything appeared to be ok. I’m a researcher and health educator, not trained in medicine at all, and there was not an athletic trainer onsite so I trusted the opinion of his coach. My son went back in the game and continued to play for another minute or so before the game ended (fortunately never touching the ball again).
After the game, he was holding his arm a little funny and I could tell it was bothering him. I was going out of town the next morning so I decided to take him to one of the NCH urgent care centers on the way home because I didn’t want him playing in upcoming games if he had a small injury.
Turns out he had broken his elbow and was now in a full arm sling and soft cast. The doctor told us that it was good that we came in to see him. If he had continued to play the next day, he could have made the injuries much worse and been out of commission for a significantly longer period of time.
I have wondered what a difference it would have made if we had an athletic trainer on-site, for this and other injuries I’ve seen with kids on his various teams. From what I’ve seen as a parent sitting on the sidelines, I’m pretty sure that injuries, including concussions, are going undiagnosed and causing problems later in the season.
My son is in middle school now and we are fortunate enough to live in a school district that has athletic trainers for the high school sports but not for most of the middle school sports (yet). We did have an athletic trainer available for home football games this year and she was able to treat and assess many injuries on site – stopping some of the athletes from going back into games when they shouldn’t and clearing others to go back into the game when they could (preventing them from missing game time when they didn’t need to or from having their parents take them to a potentially costly visit to the doctor or urgent care that wasn’t needed).
From my personal experience, I have seen the value of having athletic trainers onsite and strongly encourage parents to reach out to the athletic directors at their schools and let them know they want these trained professionals onsite to help prevent and treat injuries in their athletes.
Tracy Mehan is the manager of translational research for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
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