If you're an athlete, chances are you'll require specialized care from a health professional during your career.
Each of these professionals has different levels of training, expertise and certifications, but the care they provide often overlaps. That's one reason why they often work together.
Sports Professionals Defined
Caring for athletes isn't always clear-cut. In fact, most athletes require a full team of professionals working in concert to stay at the top of their game. Yet confusion remains about which professionals you need to see for training, injury prevention, and recovery and treatment after an injury.
Each type of professional has its own set of experience, training and certifications. Here’s how they measure up:
· Sports medicine doctor: Sports medicine physicians are typically trained in orthopedic surgery, primary care or emergency medicine. These professionals have medical degrees as well as specialized training in sports medicine, including the prevention and treatment of injury. In addition to caring for conditions ranging from concussion to head colds, sports medicine physicians also focus on helping people return to sports safely and effectively after illness or injury.
· Athletic trainer: Athletic trainers take care of athletes from prevention through rehabilitation. In collaboration with a physician, these professionals offer insights that help minimize risk and prevent injuries. They evaluate athletes and provide immediate care and treatment, sometimes even on the sidelines. They also provide rehabilitation and reconditioning after an injury or illness.
· Exercise physiologist: Exercise physiologists study the effect of exercise on the muscular, cardiovascular, and sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. They examine functional capacity and strength due to endurance training or strength training. These professionals may also test athletes for VO2max (your oxygen volume while training) and body composition (the ratio of fatty mass to lean mass).
· Physical medicine and rehab physician: These professionals treat a variety of medical conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons. They take the whole body into account to pinpoint problems and enhance performance without surgery.
· Physical therapist: Physical therapists diagnose and treat individuals of all ages with conditions that limit their ability to move and perform daily activities.
Other Specialized Professionals Who Care for Athletes
In addition to the health care professionals described above, athletes may meet with a host of experts, including:
· Nurses and medical assistants
· Occupational therapists
· Behavioral health specialists
· Complementary medical practitioners, such as acupuncturists and chiropractors
None of these individuals are "fitness professionals," a term nearly anyone can use to describe a range of professional activities. Rather, these sports medicine experts are part of a comprehensive team that includes at least one physician. They are each licensed by the state to provide specialized care to athletes.
Personal trainers, on the other hand, focus on helping people find their way around the gym, hold them accountable to achieve their goals and help new exercisers and seasoned fitness enthusiasts stick to a workout regimen.
If you're an athlete, you need a team of health professionals who can provide comprehensive care to reach your highest potential.
Christina Chapski, Ed.D., AT, ATC, is the Director of Athletic Training & Community Outreach with Henry Ford Sports Medicine.
Want to learn more? Henry Ford Health System sports medicine experts are treating the whole athlete, in a whole new way. From nutrition to neurology, and from injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, they can give your athlete a unique game plan.
Visit henryford.com/sports or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours.
Most people have seen the headlines about concussions as a common sports injury—and it's natural that parents of athletes may have concerns. A large misconception in sports is that previous concussions are to be blamed for ongoing headaches, blurred vision and memory loss, among other symptoms.
“It’s really important to think about concussions in tandem with overall brain health,” says Jake Carpenter-Thompson, M.D., Ph.D., a board-certified neurologist at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology. “Concussions can be concerning, but they shouldn’t be looked at in a vacuum. It is important to understand an athlete’s overall brain health to help manage recovery after any impact.”
One way to do that is to consult with your child’s doctor or a sports neurologist for an annual evaluation. A sports neurologist focuses on managing sports-related brain and nervous system injuries and conditions in athletes, such as concussions, post-concussion syndrome, peripheral nerve injuries, migraines, epilepsy and more.
“Having an annual evaluation of your athlete’s brain health when they are at their baseline – and uninjured – can help diagnose and treat issues when they arise,” says Dr. Carpenter-Thompson.
A qualified healthcare professional can use the baseline evaluation results as an important comparison tool if an athlete develops a suspected concussion.
Best Practices For Keeping Athletes Safe
Dr. Carpenter-Thompson shares these tips to ensure you keep front of mind your child’s brain health and safety, not just their athletic performance:
- Get a brain health baseline test. This should include a personal and family neurological history, with a focus on current issues. It is important to note any neurological conditions that may influence concussion recovery, such as ADHD, depression, anxiety or migraine headaches.
- Encourage your children to listen to their body. There are risks to playing any sport. Encourage your child to listen to and be honest about how they’re feeling. It’s the best way to prevent and treat injuries.
- In the event of an injury, look for the signs. Within 24 hours after an injury, an athlete should be evaluated if they are experiencing: headaches, fatigue, dizziness and nausea, changes in sleep habits, trouble with memory, confusion, irritability and anxiety, or light sensitivity.
- Know that brain injuries don’t just occur with a blow to the head. They can also occur from falls, car accidents or even whiplash. If your child is experiencing any symptoms, consult your physician.
- Remember that brain health is more than just concussions. If your athlete is complaining of chronic headaches, migraines, dizziness, memory or mood issues, there may be an underlying issue.
“There is no magic number of concussions a brain can sustain. Each person is different,” says Dr. Carpenter-Thompson. “The severity of the impact and recovery time can vary greatly for numerous reasons. By getting a brain health assessment before the injury, we can provide more targeted care to improve an athlete's overall clinical course.”
To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/athletes.