By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
Each school year I’m reminded of the critical role of the Certified Athletic Trainer (“ATC”) in ensuring the health, fitness, and safe readiness for play of our young athletes. I’m currently working with three high schools as the team physician and I’m fortunate to have two highly skilled ATCs at each of the schools. Many high schools across the US are not so fortunate, either with very limited access to an ATC or no access at all. If your school falls into either of those categories I’d strongly encourage you to check your local resources and find an ATC for your students. It’ll make an enormous positive impact.
Athletic trainers are highly trained healthcare professionals. Nearly all states require regulation in some form and national certification through the Board of Certification for Athletic Trainers. They acquire baccalaureate degrees, and approximately 70% hold masters degrees.
The ATC plays a critical role in athletic programs. In addition to serving as first responders to injured athletes on the field of play, they can develop emergency action plans, monitor field, environment, and weather conditions, develop and coordinate injury prevention programs, prepare athletes for practice and games, communicate with physicians about injuries, treat and rehabilitate injured players, and help determine return to play for injured athletes.
One critical aspect of the trainers’ role that’s sometimes overlooked is that the ATC through day to day interactions with the students, coaching staff, and teaching staff is in a great position to know the kids really well. A good ATC develops a rapport with the students, knows their baseline behaviors well, and is a great communicator to the parents and coaches. Each student responds differently to injury and the ATCs are incredibly skilled at adapting safe return to play protocols with the team physicians through their knowledge of the students’ typical behavior.
I also find that the ATCs are very helpful in reducing the chances of a recurring injury. This is particularly true in overuse injuries such as stress fractures, rotator cuff tendonitis, knee tendonitis, or recurring ankle sprains. Scientific study supports this position. A study presented at the 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference provided evidence that athletic trainers can be crucial in high school sports. The authors compared injury rates of high school girls’ soccer and basketball at schools with and without athletic trainers. Reinjury rates were 5.7 times and 2.97 times higher in soccer and basketball respectively at schools without athletic trainers.
As a team physician I rely heavily on the skills and opinion from our ATCs, whether at the high school, college, or professional level. They are the heroes of sports medicine. If your school has an ATC be sure to thank him/her for their invaluable contribution. And if your school doesn’t have an ATC please go out and find one, your student athletes will be so much better for it.