Friday Night Lights and Saturday Morning Healing

Getting athletes, treated for “bumps and bruises” immediately after a game helps ensure they return to play sooner.

Written by Stephanie Heinatz for The Health Journal

In 48 years of coaching football at Hampton High School, Coach Mike Smith has seen it time and time again.

Talented football players go head to head with gifted opponents. They get beat up, bruised up and, even when they win the game, head home feeling sore.

Then, for the next two days, they sit around. The soreness increases.

And by Monday, when practice is ready to kick off, “they get up and can’t walk and think they can never walk again,” Smith says, much less play in another football game the following Friday night.

The rate of game injuries for high school athletes is reportedly nine times that of practice, according to study published in the Epidemiology journal.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, nearly 50 percent of all injuries sustained by middle and high school athletes during sports – practice and games – are overuse injuries that then inflame because they go untreated.

As high school athletes prepare to return to their field and courts of play for the upcoming school year, sports therapy experts have some advice for keeping kids injury free, and in the game.

Injury Prevention

Staying in the game starts with injury prevention.

There is a growing “epidemic of preventable youth sports injuries that are dismantling kids’ athletic hopes,” according to STOP Sports Injuries, an educational initiative launched by sports medicine experts.

STOP, an acronym for Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention, works with, among other national organizations, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their mission? Education.

“The comprehensive public outreach program focuses on the importance of sports safety, specifically related to overuse and trauma injuries,” says STOP.

“The initiative not only raises awareness and provides education on injury reduction, but also highlights how playing safe and smart can enhance and extend a child’s athletic career, improve teamwork, reduce obesity rates and create a lifelong love of exercise and healthy activity.”

When athletes do get hurt, the Mayo Clinic’s Sports Medicine Center, recommends “prompt treatment (to help) athletes quickly return to their sport (since) many injuries affect the muscles, ligaments or bones.”

Sports Injury Clinics

A drive to offer prompt treatment to all athletes inspired Tidewater Physical Therapy to develop a sports injury clinic, offered six days a week at their Oyster Point clinic on J. Clyde Morris Boulevard in Newport News.

Coaches and trainers know what clinical studies show: early rehabilitation leads to shorter recovery times.

During the game, athletic trainers respond to an athlete’s acute rehabilitation needs immediately. But what happens between the immediate post-game period and Monday morning?

“We felt like if we could get these athletes in the clinic right away following any sort of injury during their game, we could get them back on the field and return to play by the next game,” says Mike Satterley, PT, DPT, a physical therapist and director of the Sports Therapy Program at the Oyster Point clinic.

With only seven days between games, a delay of two or more days before starting rehab may keep an athlete on the bench, or at risk for re-injury, Satterley says.

Because all of the physical therapists at the Oyster Point clinic are Direct Access certified, student athletes are able to come to the clinic with their guardian, and without a prescription from their physician, for an evaluation.

“We’re never surprised by what comes into the clinic,” Satterley says. “We are athletes. We understand that when you’re on the field, with all this adrenaline going, you may not feel tearing or breaking something right away. You may not know something is wrong until the next morning.”

So much so, Satterley says, that some athletes come in barely able to walk.

“We take a look, and then advise them to head over to an urgent care center, call their physician, especially if it looks like a fracture,” Satterley says.

Other athletes will walk in fine, or be able to move their shoulder as an example, but are in a lot of pain.

“After we do an evaluation, if it looks safe, we start rehabilitation immediately,” Satterley says.

In the case of a soft tissue injury, physical therapists have a number of tools to begin aggressive swelling control including intermittent compression, ice, stabilization, and a therapeutic pool with motorized, submerged treadmills.

The final scenario brings in athletes who have “really tweaked something, but really just need ice and some good stretching,” Satterley says. “We ice them down, prescribe key exercises for the week and they are largely back on the field by Friday night.”

Coach Mike Smith from Hampton High School had six to eight players in the Tidewater clinic each weekend last football season.

A quarterback with a knee injury. Ankle sprains. Bruised up shoulders and oblique muscles.

“It was the only thing that was able to get us back on the field,” Smith says. “If you lose two days getting started with rehab because it’s the weekend, you are already behind. If you fall behind even two days, it’s hard to be back in the game by the next Friday.”

Beyond the Football Field

Athletes love to say “no pain, no gain,” says Cody Morris, a former All-American football player from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

“I’ve been hurt over the years,” says Morris. “But it’s a bad idea to accept pain from an injury, even if you think it will go away.”

And that’s true for all athletes, from football players to adults training to run in a 5K race. It’s why, Satterley says, their sports injury clinic is not limited to high school athletes.

Morris earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology and is a certified trainer who now works with high school, college and professional athletes, as well as those adults training for sporting events.

“I tell them all it’s about addressing a small problem,” Morris says,” “before it becomes a big problem.”

Sports Injury Resources

STOP Sports Injuries

Virtual Sports Injury Clinic

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Sports Injuries

NCAA Sports Injuries 2013 Handbook (for download)