6 Ways Orthopedic Practices Can Prepare for Young Athletes

Written by Laura Dyrda | August 15, 2011 | Print  |
Here are six ways your orthopedic practice can prepare for young athletes as they begin their seasons. 1. Hold a coaches meeting to discuss over-training. As young athletes still have growth plates on their joints, extensive conditioning increases the risk of joint being damaged. This means football players running hills or bleachers for extra strength and endurance are more prone to joint damage than players who spend extra time scrimmaging. Additionally, athletes doing plyometrics or jumping exercises to strengthen muscles are also placing a great amount of stress on their joints. "The weak spot isn't in the muscle, it's the anchor point, or joint," says David Marshall, MD, medical director of the sports medical program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "If the weak spot is in the anchor point, that's where the injury occurs."

2. Make preseason neurocognitive testing available.
In the past, if an athlete suffered from a concussion, coaches and physicians gauged the athlete's return to play by the disappearance of symptoms, says Joshua Siegel, MD, director of sports medicine at Access Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in Exeter, N.H. However, physicians today know an athlete is not necessarily healed from a concussion because his or her symptoms disappear. Incurring a second concussion before the first has healed could lead to cognitive disability, memory loss and depression. Dr. Siegel recommends young athletes should go through preseason neurocognitive testing in order to assess their "normal" level of functioning against their "post-concussion" functioning, gauging whether it is safe to return to play.

3. Reinforce the consequences of multiple concussions. Young athletes, especially those involved in contact sports, are susceptible to concussions. Without adequate education, athletes may be unaware they suffered a concussion because they did not lose consciousness. However, symptoms such as dizziness are indicative of a concussion and incurring a second concussion could lead to cognitive delays, brain damage or death. Even young athletes who are conditioned to recognize concussions may not admit to this injury.

"The kids might know they've suffered a sign of concussion but they don't want to tell anybody because they don't want to come out of a game," says Dr. Marshall. He says physicians can convince young athletes to rest after receiving a possible concussion by emphasizing the damage a second head injury could create.

4. Send athletic trainers to local high schools.
A representative onsite at the high schools can increase the practices visibility among the athletes. Athletic trainers should be available at high school practices two or three times a week in order to examine injuries as they occur or the trainers can advise athletes on treatment for recurring pain. The trainer acts as a liaison between the coaches and the physician. If the athletes are familiar and comfortable with the athletic trainer, they will be more likely to visit the trainer's practice for serious injury treatment.

"Having an athletic trainer at the schools gets the practice name and group out there," says David Geier Jr., MD, director of MUSC Sports Medicine in Charleston, S.C. "The trainer is the first person the parents come in contact with after the injury."

5. Be available on the sidelines. Commit to being a team physician for local youth sporting events and stand at the sidelines for each home event. If an injury occurs, the physician can make an assessment on the sidelines and treat the athlete as soon as possible. If the athlete has a good experience, he or she will relay that information to other players.

"You do have to build a good reputation because your patients are out there playing with other people who are your future patients," says Walter Lowe, MD, of the University of Texas Health and Science Center and team physician for the Houston Texans, Houston Rockets and the University of Houston Cougars. "The marketing dollars that are spent trying to promote physicians through advertising at the stadium for the most part are wasted." He says very few of his patients come to him as referrals from other physicians; most learn of his work through word-of-mouth.

6. Offer free preseason physicals and Saturday morning sports injury clinics during the season.
If physicians can identify physical deformities or the potential for overuse injuries, they can create an individual workout plan for an athlete based on the athlete's condition. This includes providing advice for appropriate conditioning and exercise techniques for someone with flatfoot deformity, identifying the right sized equipment for each athlete and instructing left-handed pitchers about preserving their arm, as the natural deliver of many left-handed pitchers incurs increased stress on the rotator cuff. Many states require this type of preseason physical; an orthopedic or sports medicine practice can achieve an edge over other practices by offering a "free" preseason clinic day for young athletes. While the initial physical is free, the athletes establish a relationship with practice physicians for the future.

Additionally, many orthopedic and sports medicine practices hold "sports injury" clinics during the fall in order to accommodate young athletes playing games on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. These clinics usually include a physician and nurse as well as imaging staff in order to correctly diagnose and treat the athlete's injury. Having convenient hours for young athletes is important for every sports medicine practice.

Related Articles on Sports Medicine:

5 Ways to Boost Sports Medicine Patient Volume

How Physicians Can Help Decrease Injuries in Young Athletes: Q&A with Rothman Institute's Michael Ciccotti
6 Advantages to Orthopedic Practices Partnering With Rehabilitation Specialists

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