Athletic trainers start early to keep kids in the game

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Athletic trainers aren't just for the pros. They can be essential for keeping young athletes safe and healthy.

While the lights shine on the action, several area schools now have a certified athletic trainer on the sidelines, focused on the young athletes in a way that goes beyond fitness.

"Personal trainers help you develop an exercise program, workout, lose weight," Dr. Ryan Tomlins of Cotton-O'Neil Orthopedic and Sports Medicine in Topeka explained. "Athletic trainers are actually more of an evaluation, treatment, and also do a little bit of rehab."

Dr. Tomlins says, for several years, Cotton-O'Neil Orthopedic and Sports Medicine has had a partnership to provide athletic trainers for about two dozen area schools. They're currently in two schools full time, and will likely add to more to that schedule this fall. They evaluate injuries, and can make the call on what's best for the student.

"If we feel like it is going to become more harmful for them to return to the game, we kind of have to be the bad guy and make that decision," he said. "These kids want to compete but we want to be there from a safety standpoint."

They're also working to be more proactive, by expanding tools like functional movement screening which can clue them in to potential problems.

"Poor scoring on movement screening directly relates to injuries, so if we can pick those things up, incorporate those changes to fix those problems early on, then we feel like we can prevent injuries, not only on the field, but in the weight room and other theaters," Dr. Tomlins said.

The goal is to keep a small issue from becoming a big problem. For example, Dr. Tomlins said an ACL tear or major fracture not only sidelines them longer now, it also can put them at greater risk for early arthritis in the future.

"Most students athletes aren't thinking 20, 30 years down the road so I think we can help in that aspect," he said.

Dr. Tomlins says it's also important for student athletes to get both their annual well checkup and a dedicated sports physical. The sports physical will pay closer attention to their heart, lungs and joints, while the well exam looks at other areas of overall health.