CINCINNATI -- As a new school year is set to begin, so too is a new athletic season.
While many students won’t report to their homerooms before the first day of school, those who are student athletes have likely already begun training for the kickoff of another year of sports.
Unfortunately, it’s a statistical fact that some of these athletes will suffer injuries during the season. While it can’t be prevented, Mercy Health Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine has an idea on how to reduce that risk.
During a series of weekend events this summer, Mercy has invited area high school athletes to take part in lower-extremity baseline testing, which can potentially spot areas of increased risk and help strengthen those areas to help prevent injury. Establishing a baseline also helps create a record of the athlete’s physiology, allowing trainers to have a better idea of where an he should be in the course of rehabilitation.
Lower-extremity injuries affect bone, joint and soft tissue in the legs, knees and feet and include ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries, which can sometimes be career-ending for an athlete.
“We often see athletes who get hurt and they come in to get healthy, but we have no idea where they were strength-wise before they came in,” said Rocky Tevulke, an athletic trainer for Mercy Health. “This testing helps us understand where they are after an injury and how to get them back to where they were before an injury.”
Mercy’s combine events, which are similar in activity to NFL combines, involve watching and recording activities like shuffling, cutting and step-and-go movements to observe how and how quickly a player’s knees move with each action.
The testing can also pinpoint athletes with assymetric strength, in which the muscle groups in one of the legs may be markedly stronger than the other, leaving the weaker leg more vulnerable to injury.
“Recovery from a lower-extremity injury isn’t just time-dependent, it’s function-dependent,” said Dr. Matthew Busam, a Mercy Health physician and team physician for the Cincinnati Bengals. “Is an athlete ready to return yet? These baseline tests allow us to know when an athlete is ready to come back.”
Busam said statistically, high school athletes are at a greater peril for lower-extremity injuries because the chance of reinjury is so high.
“If a 17-year-old tears an ACL, the statistics tell us his or her risk of doing it again is 15 to 20 percent, where for a 25-year-old it’s only 4-5 percent,” Busam said. “High school athletes have a greater amount of athletic exposure, they’re doing more athletic things over a period of time. They’re going to go back to doing the same thing that injured them in the first place.”
For Alex Homan, a lacrosse player at Anderson High School who once dislocated her kneecap playing athletics, the baseline testing is a no-brainer.
“Now if I hurt my knee again I’ll better know how to deal with the injury than I would have before,” the high school junior. “When I first injured it, I didn’t have something to work toward. If I ever hurt it again, I now have a goal to return it to how it was before the injury.”
Pat Thatcher, Homan’s lacrosse coach and strength coach for all Anderson High School sports, said he believes lower-extremity baseline testing helps shine a light on injury reduction in an area where that emphasis hasn’t previously existed.
“I think the preventative side of lower-extremity injury flies under the radar. There are things which can be done to reduce the risk, but when you don’t know that you don’t take the steps to reduce that risk,” Thatcher said. “With this testing tool, our training programs can get better and more coaches will realize how important it is to train our kids ahead of time. There’s no battle against it.”
Thatcher also believes Mercy’s involvement helps coaches maintain the data so they don’t have to do it themselves.
“We have 150 to 200 athletes come through our leg room each day,” said Thatcher. “There’s no way I could perform this testing on every one of them.”
Busam said that while coaches are responsible for developing strategy on-field, off-field they’re rarely also physical therapists.
“Anytime we can give them information they can act on, it’s a good thing,” said Busam. “It’s not about our benefit. At some point we have to be better stewards of our athletes’ health, giving them the most information we can to help them become better athletes – and hopefully to get them back safely, not just get them back.”
Mercy has a lower-extremity baseline event in Mason on July 23.