The Important Role of an Athletic Trainer

Most people would agree that having a healthcare provider on the sidelines at sporting events and practices is advantageous, especially for when an injury occurs. More and more schools, locally and around the country, are hiring athletic trainers to support athletes, coaches, sports teams, and school district athletic programs. Although their presence is increasing and their impact is tangible, there are still a good number of people who do not know what athletic trainers are, nor what they do. Certified Athletic Trainers (ATCs) are health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical evaluation, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.  

In order to become a Certified Athletic Trainer, an individual must graduate with a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited athletic training education program. In addition to classwork, the athletic training student must complete a series of clinical rotations at various high schools and colleges, as well as pass a comprehensive test administered by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer. Once an individual is certified, they must meet ongoing continuing education requirements in order to remain certified, and they must also work under the direction of a physician.

Athletic training is often confused with personal training. A personal trainer is a fitness professional who has the knowledge, skills and abilities to provide safe and effective exercise and fitness programs. An athletic trainer, whose education includes strength and conditioning classes, focuses primarily on sports medicine services, such as injury assessment and management, in addition to general fitness. Returning the injured athlete back to sports as quickly and safely as possible is the top priority of the athletic trainer.  

Justen Lopez, is the current Certified Athletic Trainer for Pleasantville Schools. He works with athletes before, during, and after practices and competitions. Justen works roughly 25 hours a week at the school, making sure all athletes receive the best and fastest care possible, in order to keep them healthy and playing on the fields and courts. His daily routine begins with pre-practice/game treatment, including assessment, taping, and rehabilitation of injuries. After doing rehabilitation exercises with athletes across all sporting teams, Justen provides sports medicine coverage during practices and games. He is present on-site in the event of an athlete injury, making him the first person to assess, evaluate and determine what the proper medical care and course of action should be. It goes without saying that there are huge benefits to having a trained healthcare professional present immediately following an injury. Additionally, having an athletic trainer on-site can take pressure off coaches. It allows coaches to focus on coaching, and not have to manage injuries.

Common minor injuries and issues that Justen treats include hamstring strains, shin splints, mild ankle sprains, IT band syndrome, and patellofemoral pain syndrome. He utilizes different techniques and methods (like hands-on massage therapy, stretching, and taping) to aid the injury recovery process, and to get athletes ready to perform and compete. Justen also coordinates with other healthcare professionals when necessary, in order to get the injured athlete the appropriate care.

Another advantage of having a Certified Athletic Trainer on staff and on-site at the secondary school level is that they can assess and treat more minor injuries, without the need for medical referral. This helps prevent a minor injury from turning into a more serious injury, and also allows students to receive care without breaking up their normal routine (of having to go to different doctors at varying times). The Certified Athletic Trainer provides medical support built-in during the school day and practice time, saving precious time and resources. Certified Athletic Trainers also implement and oversee concussion policy/ procedures, to provide proper management for concussed athletes, both in the athletic and educational environment.
The value of having Certified Athletic Trainers present during sporting events and practices is becoming more and more evident as the number of people playing sports and getting injured increases. Educating the general public, as well as school officials, will help raise awareness and ultimately help athletes everywhere, no matter what age or skill level.

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