What exactly is an Athletic Trainer?
No we do not “train” athletes in the weight room to get them ready for play; although we could set up a program for athletes of all ages, for multiple purposes ranging from injury rehab, to strength training. Our title should actually be more like “Athletic Injury Health Provider“, but when a player is down, calling out in pain, “trainer” rolls of the tongue a little easier.
Athletic Trainers can be found at a wide range of places. The most common place to find an Athletic Trainer (AT) is on the sideline of a sporting event (Middle/High Schools, Colleges, Professional Sports, Olympic Arenas, Marathons…etc). You can even find ATs in places you wouldn’t first think; some places like UPS, (yes the delivery service) hire ATs for injures that happen on the job.
Athletic Trainers are much more than just a “sports nurse”. We often spend a great amount of time with the athletes at the location we work at, and it’s impossible not to form attachments. Graduation time is one of the saddest times of the year for me, because its another year of losing a class of great student athletes. Most days I feel like a counselor more than an ATC. I love that the kids here feel comfortable enough in my room and recognize it as a safe environment to come and seek guidance. Sometimes just talking it out with them is all the help they need, but for others its often the first step into seeking more professional care with whatever issue they may be facing. The kids are what make my job all worth it.
So, back to what we do, there are specific requirements and domains that we specialize in:
1. Initial Injury/1st aid care:
When you are watching a sports event on TV, and a player goes down; rolling on the ground in pain, ATs are the ones that run out (yes often wearing fanny packs and khakis) and check on the injured athlete. We assess the situation and make a decision on whether or not the injured will be able to return to play (RTP). If necessary we will also use 1st aid skills on the scene of injury (controlling bleeding, CPR, AED, etc), and decide if further care; such as a trip to the ER, is needed. Some common injuries we see, not limited to, but including
Sprains (stretching of the ligaments)
Strains (stretching of the tendons or muscles)
Tears (tearing of the ligament, muscle, or tendon)
Cramps (involuntary contracting of the muscle)
Concussions (traumatic head injury)
Contusions (bruising of soft tissue or bone)
2. Diagnosis of Injury:
How do we tell what an injury is? There are series of special tests we do on an athlete once we get an idea of the injury. Usually we can tell what is going on from the Mechanism of Injury (MOI) which is “how the injury happened” and what they tell us is “going on”. After we get a history of the injury we go through the series of special tests to figure out what injury we are working with. The special tests help us determine what the injury is (sprain, vs strain, vs break..etc)
After the injury is assessed, it’s time to take care of it. Luckily the school I work at is affiliated with OSI physical therapy. OSI has Physical Therapists that specialize specifically in injury rehab and care. Ice, heat, and other modalities, along with an exercise program is the rout usually taken for the rehab of injuries. Time frames vary injury to injury, PTs and ATs are trained in making a rehab program unique to each injury.
4. Prevention of Injury:
After you rehab and are ready to RTP, preventative care is something ATCs like to do so re-injury doesn’t occur. Things like bracing and taping can be done, along with continuation of rehab goals. Sometimes the way an athlete is built can give them a greater chance of getting injured. For example, lets say a female athlete has narrow and weak hips, this can lead to a whole bunch of knee and ankle problems. Obviously we cannot change the width of the hips, but we can continue to help them do exercises that will strengthen their hips and decrease the likelihood of future injury.
5. Emotional care:
A lot of the times we unfortunately see season ending injuries. This can take a toll on an athlete who identifies themselves mostly through the sports they play. Athletes can go into a depression when they “lose their identity”, so its important as an ATC to help in any way we can. A lot of the time helping an athlete cope is mostly making sure they still feel apart of the team in any way they can. We should recognize the “stages of grief” for they may apply to an athlete who has “lost everything” through their injury.
1. Denial and Isolation
3. Bargaining (“if only” and “deal making”)