Unsung Heroes

Athletic Trainers Instrumental in Keeping Athletes Ready for Competition

Year after year and season after season, sports and athletic competitions remain popular, both for participants and spectators. We root for our favorite teams and cheer athletes on to great victories. Playing a sport is an excellent way to stay in shape physically and mentally, and in some cases – help pay for college through scholarships. No athlete is an island unto themselves, however, and it’s important to recognize the team effort that goes into an athlete’s success. This means not just their fellow competitors, teammates, and coaches, but the people who work behind the scenes and on the sidelines to help each athlete compete at their personal best.
One such group of helpers is the athletic trainers who work with coaches and athletes to help prevent and treat injuries. Athletic trainers are there to make sure that athletes are treating their bodies right and maximizing their potential. You might be surprised to learn that they not only work in the sports arena, but in other fields as well, such as industrial and military settings. Wherever they are, athletic trainers are working hard to ensure that, as much as possible, injuries are prevented and good rehabilitation strategies are used.
For many people, thinking of an athletic trainer brings to mind images of a person who wraps ankles during games, or suits athletes up with knee braces. There is so much more to the job than that. “I think most people might not be aware that we do more than hand out water and tape,” explains Brittany Thorne, athletic trainer at Southeastern University. “We deal with the prevention, treatment, and care for athletic injuries.”
A lot of what athletic trainers do is preventative care. They would rather see you before you get injured, so they can help prevent such a thing from happening. Some of the most common injuries suffered in sports settings are rotator cuff injuries and ankle sprains. Gene Estep of the Bond Clinic tells us, “Many athletes like to strengthen the mirror muscles and neglect the smaller stabilizer groups such as the peroneals, the core, and the rotator cuff muscles.” That type of focus can lead to a greater chance of injury.
Athletic trainers can offer realistic strategies for athletes to employ to help keep their bodies resilient. Ms. Thorne describes an exercise called foam rolling, which is the use of a foam cylinder to roll different parts of the body upon. It is a form of self-myofascial relief that helps to break up scars and adhesions in the muscle layers. This is important because everything in the body is connected, and a pain in one area could be caused by an injury in another.
Ms. Thorne works with Southeastern University’s football team, the Fire, and she comments that one of the most common problems she comes across is dehydration. It is imperative for athletes to fuel their bodies appropriately before expending themselves. This means eating a nutritious diet and drinking enough fluids. The Florida heat and humidity can take a real toll on an athlete, but proper nutrition and hydration can make a big difference. Mr. Estep adds that cramping can contribute to sprains, strains, and concussions, and is 99% preventable through proper diet and hydration. He says, “This is important not just the day of the game but also the night before and any time they are training.”
Parents of young athletes need to help their children learn to recognize the difference between being sore from activity and being in pain due to an injury. Many children start participating in sports without having had a seriously painful injury yet in their lives, so they may complain of pain when they are really just getting used to the feeling of physical exertion. Concussions are also a topic parents need to be aware of, in terms of recognizing symptoms and understanding what steps to take.
Athletic trainers are trained to recognize concussions. They can utilize a list of possible symptoms to determine the likelihood of concussion and recommend treatment. For parents of children involved in contact sports, it’s important to know what symptoms to look for in order to get treatment, if necessary. Headache, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, unusual behavior, and more can all be signs of concussion and cause to seek medical attention.
Ultimately, athletic trainers do what they do because they love the work. There’s a lot of grunt work and mundane tasks involved, but the payoff of seeing these athletes you’ve helped and trained excel at what they love is gratifying. Athletes come in all ages and levels. Athletic trainers need to be flexible and compassionate to work with the many different situations they will come across as they perform their duties. For all they do to keep our athletes, young and old, active and scoring, athletic trainers deserve their own round of applause.

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