What is an Athletic Trainer? - They are Part of the Sports Medicine Team

Almost 7 million student-athletes participate in high school sports programs today with additional numbers in middle school and summer league programs.  The number of students participating in sports has increased dramatically as has the physical demands on their young bodies.  As emphasis is placed on today’s student-athletes to become bigger, faster and stronger; the chance for injury increases.  Certified Athletic Trainers (ATCs) are the some of the most comprehensively prepared allied medical professionals, trained to deal with the injuries of these young athletes.  They have similar educational backgrounds as physical, occupational, and other therapists utilized by school districts.  Over 70% of ATCs have a master’s or a doctorate degree and must pass national certification exams in addition to their state licensure exams.  These multi-skilled allied health professionals are strongly supported, academically and clinically by the:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

“Athletic trainers are an integral part of our Sports Medicine Team at Children's Hospital.  On the playing field or court, they act as our "eyes and ears," keeping the athletes safe and healthy.  In our clinic, they serve as a valuable member of our team assisting in the treatment and prevention of our athletes' injuries,” says Tom Pommering DO., Medical Director of Sports Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. 

Certified Athletic Trainers are employed in a variety of professional settings including the traditional high school and college/university setting.  Schools employ these professionals to handle emergency and non-emergency situations that arise from sport and physical activity.  Injury prevention, assessment, management, treatment and rehabilitation are the five main areas in which Certified Athletic Trainers are uniquely trained. Risk Management and Injury Prevention training allows ATCs to develop and implement comprehensive emergency action plans. They also identify unsafe field or environmental conditions and monitor and provide the proper intervention for heat-related illnesses.  When an injury does occur, ATCs are there to provide “on the field” or “on the court” immediate assessments.  Based on the information gained they can then provide the best and most efficient injury management protocol.  These professionals then work with the student-athlete on a daily basis to help maximize the healing potential.  Many sports injuries require more aggressive and advanced rehabilitation.  ATCs are prepared to design and implement comprehensive rehabilitation programs that are sports and/or position specific and age appropriate.  They are trained in the biomechanics of sport and design rehabilitation programs that include the functional activities needed to return to sport.  They have to take into consideration not only the physical, but also the mental and emotional preparation of the injured athlete.  A complete, safe and permanent return to competition after an injury has resolved, requires specialized physical reconditioning that can take place during the rehabilitation process.  In addition to the above skills, Certified Athletic Trainers also address the nutritional concerns related to sport.  They help identify athletes at risk for nutritional disorders, monitor body composition to reduce the risk of injury and reinforce appropriate weight management strategies. 

Sports medicine clinics, corporate wellness and industrial fitness facilities are employing ATCs because of their expertise in biomechanics, injury prevention and rehabilitation.   They work with their patients and employees to help get them back to work and play quickly and safely.

With their knowledge of musculoskeletal anatomy, function and clinical experience in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders, ATCs are also commonly employed as physician extenders in sports medicine and orthopedic physician’s practices.  In this setting, the ATCs can effectively communicate any activity modification to the patient with emphasis on using proper and safe techniques.  They can also design and implement home exercise programs in addition to providing gait training, crutch fitting, orthotics, etc.  They also assist the physician in patient education and help answer any questions about the patient’s particular injury and return to activity.

“With the dramatic growth in youth sports participation and the subsequent increase in the number of injuries we are seeing, there is a need for qualified medical care who understands the issues facing young athletes.  The utilization of an Athletic Trainer for recognition and early intervention as well as prevention of these injuries is the logical choice in providing appropriate medical care for our children,” says Kevin Klingele, M.D., orthopedist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Certified athletic trainers are an integral part of the Sports Medicine Team.  They work “one on one” with athletes and patients on a daily basis helping them restore function and return to activity as quickly and safely as possible.  ATCs are some of the most qualified medical professional to respond to the needs of the student-athlete and physically active population.  Make sure there is one caring for your injuries.

Consult your primary care physician for more serious injuries that do not respond to basic first aid. As an added resource, the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine is available to diagnose and treat sports-related injuries for youth or adolescent athletes. Services are now available in five locations. To make an appointment, call (614) 355-6000 or request an appointment online.