What is an athletic trainer?

Athletic trainers are certified health care professionals who practice in the field of sports medicine. Athletic trainers work in many settings, including:

  • High schools
  • Colleges and universities
  • Professional sports
  • Sport performance centers
  • Physician offices
  • Industrial fields
  • Military bases
  • Performing arts
  • Sports medicine clinics

Athletic trainers are certified by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and licensed by the state in which they work. Athletic trainers work with other health care professionals to support each student-athlete’s safe return to play. Services include injury prevention, management of acute and emergent injuries, education and rehabilitation of injuries toward a safe return to play.

When should I see a doctor?

  • When in doubt about the significance of an injury or how to care for the injury
  • When in severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured area
  • When the injured area has a changed shape and/or size as compared to normal
  • When you cannot move injured area
  • When there is any numbness to injured area
  • When there is pain, swelling or redness to injured area

When do I apply ice and/or heat to an injured area?

Ice is an application option for acute injuries to help reduce inflammation and pain. Acute injuries can occur suddenly to a specific body part and are usually isolated to the injured area. Ice may also be used to treat overuse injuries, arthritis or even migraine headaches. When using ice for treatment, place a cloth barrier on the skin before applying ice. Use ice treatments throughout the day for up to 15 minutes each time. Remove the ice if you experience pain or skin appears bright pink or red. Heat treatments are often used to treat chronic conditions to help stimulate blood flow and relax tissues. Chronic injuries are commonly a result of overuse and/or consistent stress of an injured area. Use heat before activities to loosen muscles and joints and treat overuse injuries. Do not use heat after an activity or to treat an acute injury. Never use heat where there is swelling, on broken skin or while sleeping. Heat should never cause sweating or discomfort. Use heat treatments for no longer than 20 minutes at a time.

How can exertional heat illness be prevented?

Be aware of environmental factors that can affect heat illness such as outside temperature, wind, humidity and sun radiation. Weather apps are available to track weather related factors. A Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is a resource available through WeatherSTEM. Using the air temperature, humidity, wind and radiation readings, the WBGT value provides an assessment of heat-related environmental conditions and risk. WBGT is different from heat index. A heat index value is determined by using the relative humidity and air temperature to estimate how hot it feels outside to a normally dressed person not engaging in physical activity. The WBGT provides a more accurate heat illness risk assessment during outdoor physical activities and water breaks, rest breaks and sports-related equipment can be adjusted according to the level of risk.

Tips for preventing heat illness:

  • Exercise early in the morning or late in the evening to minimize risk.
  • Properly hydrate before, during and after exercising.
  • Wear light colored clothing that allows for sweating.
  • Track hydration by urine output and color.
  • Wear sunscreen and re-apply when needed.
  • Closely monitor any signs/symptoms of heat illness.

Signs and symptoms of exertional heat illness are:

  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Pale sweaty skin
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Decreased pulse
  • Heavy sweating
  • Vomiting

If you experience any of these signs and symptoms, you should rest in a cool environment. Then rehydrate with water and/or a sports drink and eat a nourishing meal. Follow-up with an appropriate medical professional prior to returning to participation.

What’s the difference between a sprain and a strain?

Signs and symptoms for both are similar: pain, inflammation, bruising and/or swelling to the injured area.

A sprain is normally a stretching or tearing of ligaments that connect two bones together. Sprain symptoms may include feeling a pop followed by pain, swelling and/or bruising. This can result in stiffness or instability of an injured joint, and/or redness of the skin near the injured area.

A strain is a soft tissue injury that occurs in the muscle and/or tendon. Strains commonly have spasms or cramping within the injured area. The “RICE” method for at home care can be used: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Consult a physician if the swelling/pain does not start to reduce within 24 to 72 hours. Seek medical help if you cannot bear any weight on the injured area, you feel a popping when the injured area is moved or you can’t move the injured muscle or area at all.

How do I prevent injuries?

There is no way to completely prevent injuries from occurring, but you can mitigate risks by:

  • Having an annual sports preparticipation physical and wellness check
  • Stretching before activities
  • Prepping for the movement(s) in which you are about to engage
  • Training for the sport
  • Wearing the correct shoe size
  • Listening to your body
  • Having an appropriate cool down after exercise/activity
  • Receiving adequate rest/sleep
  • Engaging in proper nutrition and hydration
  • Practicing safe techniques for your sport/activity

For more information and sport-specific tips, view the National Council of Youth Sports page here: Specific Resources | National Council of Youth Sports (ncys.org)

What is a sport-related concussion?

A sport-related concussion is an injury that is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. It can also occur when a hit to the body causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. An athlete may still have a concussion even if they did not lose consciousness. Concussion signs and symptoms can appear immediately or may not be noticed for days or weeks after the injury. It’s important to know and recognize the signs and symptoms associated with a concussion. Follow-up with a physician (M.D./D.O.) trained in concussion management guidance on a safe return to sport.

Common signs and symptoms include:
  • Headache
  • Balance issues
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Memory issues
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sensitivity to light or noise.
Emergent symptoms include (seek medical care immediately):
  • Fluctuating levels of consciousness
  • Increasing confusion
  • Difficulty recognizing people or places
  • Inability to speak
  • Pupils becoming unequal
  • Numbness in arms or legs
  • Seizures and slurred speech