By Alicia Wanek
Participating in sports is a huge part of the high school experience for many teens. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 57% of ninth- to twelfth-grade students compete in at least one school or community sport. Often, it’s a coach who helps promote the passion a young athlete has to compete and the skills they need to improve, but there’s another key member of the athletics staff who keeps the athletes playing the game they love. That credit often goes to the school’s athletic trainer.
Starting his 27th year as a high school trainer, Chris Reynolds, ATC, LTC has worked with a lot of young athletes. As one of the athletic trainers at Plano Senior High School in Plano, Texas, he describes his role this way, “We specialize in prevention, maintenance, and rehabilitation of sports injuries.” This last year the school’s program was honored as a finalist for the Team Behind the Team award, a collaboration between Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. The award recognizes athletic training programs across the state. “The role of the athletic trainers is really behind the scenes,” Reynolds says, “If we’re at the front that means something bad has happened.” In this case, however, the award looks to shine a spotlight on training programs that are making a positive impact on their school’s athletic program and the athletes themselves.
Facilities such as those at Envision Imaging offer traditional X-ray, CT/CTA exams, and advanced MRI procedures to examine any kind of suspected injury head to toe.
A research paper presented in 2012 at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibitionfound that eight times more concussions were diagnosed in girls’ high school soccer and 4.5 times more in girls’ basketball in high schools with athletic trainers than those without. The role they play cannot be overstated. They are responsible for watching out for athletes in every sport on campus. Reynolds is always hopeful the work of his team, which includes his fellow trainer Jacquelynn Foley and twelve trained students, has prevented a far greater number of injuries than they tend to. Prevention includes discussing the importance of good nutrition and hydration with athletes, and he tries to ensure they have adequately stretched before practices and games. Additionally, his team spends a lot of time helping with bracing and taping to support vulnerable joints.
Despite their efforts, however, occasional injuries are inevitable. At the moment an injury occurs, Reynolds’ training and years of experience kick in. He assesses the severity of the injury and next steps, whether it involves simple first aid or a call to 911. “I ask a lot of questions at that point,” he says. “It’s important to understand the mechanics of how the injury occurred.” Reynolds admits seeing an athlete get hurt, especially if it’s serious, is his least favorite part of the job. He feels responsible for the hundreds of kids in the program, and he tells parents, “I’ll tell you what I’d do for my own kid.” The role of a trainer is then to collaborate with all the decision-makers in the athlete’s diagnosis and journey to recovery. Doctors, parents, trainers, and the athlete him/herself must all work together. One of the most important parts in assessing injury and recovery is to examine the results of radiologic imaging. “It takes the unknown out of the equation,” according to Reynolds.
Facilities such as those at Envision Imaging offer traditional X-ray, CT/CTA exams, and advanced MRI procedures to examine any kind of suspected injury head to toe. Determining if a bone is broken or just sprained, being able to see if there is soft tissue damage, or to examine the likelihood that an athlete suffered a concussion are all best assessed through radiologic techniques. With increased awareness about the long-term effects of concussions and the need to establish protocols to ensure a safe return to play, physicians and trainers rely on the data gained through these exams.
Envision’s pre-concussion baseline testing is encouraged, especially for athletes in sports with a higher likelihood for head injuries, to establish comparison data if the athlete does sustain a concussion.
If a concussion is suspected, Envision offers the latest MRI procedures with SWI and DTI to fully examine the brain and the severity of impact.
Parents with athletes are all too aware that injuries are most likely to occur after school. Recognizing that sports injuries don’t usually happen during traditional workday hours, Envision even has a dedicated hotline for physicians and trainers 7 am to 7 pm each weekday and on Saturday mornings to help determine if imaging is needed to assist in obtaining a quick diagnosis. Envision has centers open 7 days a week throughout the DFW metroplex, so athletes don’t necessarily have to wait until Monday morning to get answers.
Early diagnosis can lead to a more thorough plan for rehabilitation and, ultimately, a return to play. Physicians are increasingly aware of the role of athletic trainers in school sports programs, and the communication between them has improved. “Most physician groups are very supportive of athletic trainers,” according to Reynolds. He says many of them have members of their staff who call to discuss athletes’ diagnoses and progress. When injuries are severe or require surgery, the trainers may work with the athlete’s physical therapist as well.
The role of the trainers in determining if and when athletes are ready to play again is invaluable.
Re-injury rates in high schools with athletic trainers have been shown in studies to be just 3 percent, while at high schools without athletic trainers they go up to about 60 percent. Return to play requires assessment of multiple factors. Once again, imaging may be needed to assess recovery. X-rays can determine if fractures have healed, and CT or MRI scans can evaluate the status of an “invisible” injury even if the athlete feels like they’ve recovered.
“Seeing an athlete along the journey through injury and rehabilitation so they can once again return to the sport they love is one of the best feelings,” according to Reynolds. Hopefully, the journey isn’t too long. It’s obvious that through helping the athletes get back to pursuing their passion, he’s pursuing his own.
Editor’s Note: For more information about preventative imaging options, visit www.envrad.com.