Athletic Trainers (ATs) Are Healthcare!

By Justen Lopez, MS, ATC, NASM - PES

With spring right around the corner and outdoor sports starting up again, it is important to highlight the healthcare professionals on the fields and in the clinics who help keep athletes safe, Certified Athletic Trainers. March is National Athletic Training Month, and this year’s focus is on the numerous ways in which athletic trainers are involved in healthcare.

Athletic trainers are frequently thought of as fitness professionals who train athletes in strength and conditioning. However, the knowledge and responsibilities of an athletic trainer extend far beyond performance training. Athletic trainers are an integral part of the sports medicine team, and are usually on the front lines when it comes to injuries. They are trained in the prevention, assessment, and treatment of sports related injuries, and must go through an accredited program in order to become certified. The profession itself is currently undergoing changes from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree, increasing the knowledge of the students before going out into the field. In addition to the classes, students must complete over 1000 hours of field experience, emergency cardiac care and first aid, and sit for a national exam. Once certified, athletic trainers must then maintain continuing education and emergency cardiac care every two years.

In the last 15 years, there has been an increase in the number of athletic trainers employed at secondary schools and colleges, while also providing sports medicine coverage for non-scholastic sports of all levels. Their responsibility is to oversee the care of the athletes from their pre-participation exam through preseason training, to the occurrence of an injury through their recovery. Athletes generally have access to the athletic trainer after school in order to be evaluated for an injury, go through rehabilitative exercises, or to be taped up for their practice or game. Once this preparation is finished, the athletic trainer goes out to sit on the sideline of the practices and games, in case of any injuries. As injuries occur, the athletic trainer advises the athlete and coach on the appropriate next step. This takes tremendous pressure off of the coach, allowing him or her to focus on running the team, rather than worrying about trying to figure out an injury. That goes especially for concussions. Athletic trainers play a significant role in the management of concussions; as they administer baseline concussion testing, sideline post-injury assessments, proper referral to a physician, and facilitating the return to play progression once the athlete is cleared. Having this type of resource on the sideline is paramount to the safety of the players, which is why many sports leagues, such as USSoccer Development Academy, have required that an athletic trainer must be present in order for a game to be played.

Beyond providing healthcare to athletes on the field, athletic trainers are also utilized in physical therapy clinics and other outpatient clinics along side physical therapists and physicians. This relationship allows for a higher quality of patient care. Together, a physical therapist and an athletic trainer devise and implement rehabilitation programs to treat a vast spectrum of injuries and conditions. Many physical therapy clinics use physical therapy aides, which does not require any type of certification. However, the standard of care is often higher with athletic trainers due to the nature of their education and the types of therapies they are allowed to do within their scope of practice.

Athletic trainers are even being used in the industrial and corporate setting. Many companies are now working with athletic trainers and similar healthcare professionals to improve the health of their employees, while also decreasing the risk of injury. By having athletic trainers assist employees in how to be more ergonomically efficient, injury rates and costs to both the employee and company go down.

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