Behind each sports team are the athletic trainers. They may not have the most glamorous jobs, but most of them say it’s a very rewarding profession.
Most of us who are sitting on the sidelines watching a game are intensely involved — who’s going to score next? How was that a foul? How many tackles do they have? But a few of those on the sidelines are watching a different way.
As athletic trainers we watch a totally different game than the athletes and the spectators. Y’know the goal is being shot but I’m watching the collision that’s going on between two players five feet away,” Missoula Maulers head athletic trainer Lindsey Ross said.
Throughout the course of a sporting event, athletic trainers are the first responders to an athlete’s injury. They are the men and women that attend to, treat, and potentially diagnose any ailments an athlete is suffering from.
The National Federation of State High School Association reports that the number of participants in high school sports increased for the 26th consecutive year in 2014-15. And with more students joining high school sports, the higher demand is for athletic trainers to keep them healthy.
“The whole goal of high school athletics is just to expose these kids to a positive environment. And a lot of that can be ruined by injury, especially like untreated injury and stuff like that because that’s one of the main reasons kids quit high school athletics is due to injury,” said Paul Capp the head athletic trainer at Hellgate High School.
The employment of athletic trainers is projected to grow 21% through 2024,according to the Montana Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s three times higher than the national average growth rate for all occupations.
“It’s definitely a profession that’s emerging and expanding and I think people are kind of realizing more and more that we are health care professionals and that we are very useful in a various array of settings,” Ross told MTN Sports.
As first responders to an athlete’s injury, trainers always have to be prepared at the drop of a hat. But treating sprains and other ailments is what they’re focused on during and after the game. Before–it’s all about getting the players ready.
“I do a lot of injury prevention stuff. I just lay the groundwork as far as trying to put their bodies in a position to prevent injuries.. We’ve been very successful with that — we’ve had very few missed practices,” Capp said.
There is one injury that cannot be bandaged or treated on the sideline — the concussion. With the number of diagnosed brain injuries in sports increasing, advancements in treating them are too.
We stopped by Peak Performance Physical Therapy to talk to owner and physical therapist Jill Olson to learn more about how concussions are treated and diagnosed.
“So it’s like the movie 50 First Dates with Drew Barrymore. Every day is a different day with concussions. And every day something else may be driving those symptoms,” Olson said. “So it’s a real strategic analysis each day they walk in the clinic to peel back the layers and determine what’s driving the symptoms.
Since every concussion is different, every person’s healing process is different, and that’s where testing and diagnosing differs, too. Reporter Mitch Schafer took the tests to see just what is used to determine when a concussed human can return to normal daily functions.
The biggest takeaway of the testing was the amount of multi-tasking involved, which Olson uses to help gauge how her patient is acclimating to their surroundings. This helps to determine when and if an athlete can return to normal daily activities, such as school or reading, as well as adjusting to noise and activity around them.
“…If you have any vestibular/ocular dysfunction it gives false information to your brain and your brain is not able to process it. So if you have players — or you may have a visual field loss,” Olson said.
“You might have lost vision out of the left side of your eye. So if someone’s throwing the ball to you, you may not even see it. Or if a player is coming to tackle you on the left side you may not see it,” she added.
Now with more trainers on the sidelines, more concussions are being reported-which as crazy as it sounds, could be a good thing. Less players are returning to competitive play after suffering a head injury, which obviously saves them from facing a more significant injury, and onto a quicker recovery.
Once we can identify what’s driving your headaches and get you on an active treatment plan, the recovery is much more efficient and there’s a lot of research that really supports that,” explained Olson.
“And the return to school, the return to work, the return to life is so much more efficient and full when you have someone that can walk alongside you that really knows the full spectrum of concussions and how to promote fast healing.”
With more and more injuries being diagnosed and treated, athletic trainers and therapists may be making the world of sports a safer place.