Many athletes are familiar with the athletic trainers on their teams. These healthcare professionals are responsible for the prevention, rehabilitation and emergency care of musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses that impact people on the teams they work with.
What many athletes are unsure of, however, is when an ache or pain is worth mentioning to their athletic trainer (AT). Although any sign of injury is a good reason to seek out an AT, here are a few major signs that an athlete should stop by the athletic training room:
Abdominal Pain: Abdominal pain can occur due to numerous reasons, including food poisoning, ulcers or appendicitis. ATs can help identify the source of the pain by conducting a comprehensive assessment on the affected athlete.
Bleeding: External bleeding is typically caused by trauma. Any athlete experiencing external bleeding should stop by the athletic training room so they can get their wound cleaned up and bandaged. ATs can also demonstrate how to properly care for the wound to optimize the healing process.
Chest Pain: Chest pain can occur for a variety reasons, including heart conditions, asthma, GERD (acid reflux) or muscle strain. The sensation can range from mild discomfort to sharp, stabbing pain. Athletes experiencing chest pain may have shortness of breath or feel burning, tightness, fullness or pressure in/around their chest. When these symptoms arise, an AT should be sought out immediately to determine the seriousness of the condition. After performing an assessment, the AT will provide a plan of action specific to the evaluation.
Dislocations: A dislocation occurs when there is separation at the joint line (where two or more bones meet). ATs can identify them, administer immobilization and contact emergency medical services (EMS).
Flu or Cold Symptoms: Athletes should stop by the athletic training room when they are experiencing flu or cold symptoms, such as coughing, congestion, headaches (or pressure in the head), tenderness around the nose and eye area, generalized body aches or fever. ATs can take a detailed history of each symptom and its duration and establish the best next steps for care.
Fractures: Fractures can present in a variety of ways, including open (broken through skin), simple (closed, or non-piercing), displaced (loss of alignment), non-displaced, stress (hairline) and more. Regardless of the type of fracture, medical attention should be sought immediately. ATs are skilled in immobilization techniques and infection control, which can help stabilize and prepare the injury until the athlete can be seen by a physician.
Infections: Infections will typically present as red, swollen, hot, painful and can be coupled with puss. If an infection has begun, ATs can assist with cleaning and dressing the area until the athlete can seek further medical attention from their physician.
Limited Range of Motion: Limited range of motion can be a result of a fracture, dislocation, swelling or nerve dysfunction. Through a series of tests, ATs can determine the cause of the limitation and aid in resolving the issue.
Head Trauma: Head trauma should always be reported to an AT, regardless if consciousness is lost or not. Athletes should keep in mind that it can be difficult to self-recognize concussion symptoms. ATs are specifically trained to identify and assess concussions. The sooner a concussion is diagnosed, the quicker the recovery process can begin.
Loss of Consciousness (without Head Trauma): Loss of consciousness can occur without head trauma due to things like dehydration, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, heart irregularities or syncope. If this occurs, an AT should be alerted immediately so they can ensure that the athlete receives proper care.
Persistent/Increased Symptoms: Nagging aches and pains that haven’t gone away with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) or have even become more severe over time should be examined by an AT. The AT will perform a comprehensive exam and provide next steps for the treatment process, which may include physical therapy, immobilization and/or a referral to a physician.
Rash: A rash will typically present as red, swollen, flat or raised, wet or dry, and can have peeling or crust on top. The affected area may also be itchy or painful. ATs can examine the affected area and ask questions to identify the cause of the rash, which could be an allergic reaction, bacterial infection or viral infection. After the examination, ATs can provide athletes with next steps to start the healing process.
Sprains/Strains: A sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments, while a strain is the stretching or tearing of muscle or tendons. Both injuries can present on the spectrum of general soreness to debilitating pain and/or inability to use specific parts of the body. ATs base their diagnosis on an I-III grading scale for both sprains and strains. Although grade I and grade II injuries typically do not need surgery, grade III describes severe damage that oftentimes requires surgery and a longer recovery time. Whenever a sprain or strain is suspected, athletes should be examined by their AT so they can receive a tailored plan to heal the injury properly.
Swelling around an Injury Site: Swelling is often the result of inflammation or build up of fluid following an injury. Although the body uses swelling as a protective and restorative measure, it can extend the return-to-play timeline. An AT can accelerate the healing process by creating the optimal environment for recovery with a few interventions, including cryotherapy (cold therapy), massage, compression devices, electrical stimulation and/or therapeutic exercise. Since the inflammatory phase typically only lasts 72 hours, it is imperative to seek an AT right away so that interventions can be successful.
The aforementioned signs and symptoms are just a few of the many reasons that athletes should make a visit to the athletic training room. ATs are skilled in evaluation and diagnosis, which allows them to distinguish between emergent and non-emergent situations. For more serious injuries, ATs can help with contacting EMS or referring the athlete to a physician. A good motto to follow is: “When in doubt, seek your athletic trainer out.”