Student athletes need a full team to foster their success in sport. Parents and guardians support young athletes by attending games and providing emotional support, coaches guide athletes in skill building and playing the game, and an often overlooked population keeps athletes healthy — athletic trainers (ATs).
Athletic trainers, sometimes confused with personal trainers or even physical therapists, focus on the prevention and treatment of injuries in athletes.
EDUCATION AND CERTIFICATION
At a minimum all board-certified athletic trainers must possess at a bachelor degree from an accredited four-year college or university. These educational programs include instruction on first-aid and emergency care, prevention care, injury assessment, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and forms of therapy. Students also acquire experience in clinical settings. According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, more than 70 percent of certified athletic trainers hold at least a master’s degree. Athletic trainers practice under laws and regulations, which vary state to state. While most states require licensure to practice, not all do — particularly Alaska and California. In the past few years, both Alaska and California have introduced bills into their respective state legislatures to create a more stringent policy of oversight on the practice of athletic trainers.
ROLE OF THE ATHLETIC TRAINER
In order to be certified, athletic trainers must demonstrate proficiency in the domains outlined below. These are the skill areas ATs will use on a daily basis in their work with athletes. This information is borrowed from and can be found in the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s “Guide to Athletic Training Services.”
- Assess athletes for risk of potential injury or illness.
- Design and implement conditioning programs to reduce injury or illness.
- Create emergency actions plans to ensure all medical personnel are prepared for emergency situations.
- Understand environmental conditions and athlete status (e.g., ambient temperature and athlete’s level of hydration) to determine if athlete should continue exercise program.
- Educate athletes, parents, and coaches on heat illness prevention methods.
- Inspect sport equipment to ensure it has been maintained properly and is functional.
- Inspect facilities for hazards or sanitation issues.
- “Select, apply, evaluate, and modify” protective gear for athletes.
- Educate and advise on the various aspects of proper nutrition.
- Communicate risks of substance abuse
2. CLINICAL EVALUATION AND DIAGNOSIS
In a clinical evaluation, ATs determine impairments and functional limitations resulting from an injury or illness.
- Obtain thorough medical history
- Conduct physical examination (observation, palpation, range of motion evaluation, muscle strength evaluation, functional joint stability tests, and brief neurological examination)
- Arrive at a differential diagnosis
- Create treatment plan based on the findings of the initial examination
- Communicate nature of injury, findings of examination, and treatment plan to allied healthcare professionals, athlete, athlete’s guardians, and coach.
3. IMMEDIATE CARE (FIRST-AID)
- Perform an initial assessment of patient to determine level of consciousness and severity of condition.
- Implement appropriate emergency care and illness management strategies.
- Perform a secondary assessment and apply appropriate management strategies for non-life threatening injuries.
- Formulate differential diagnosis based on results of initial assessments.
- Communicate nature of injury to other personnel involved.
4. TREATMENT, REHABILITATION, AND RECONDITIONING
- Select, apply, and evaluate the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions.
- Recommend, fit, and apply braces, splints, and assistive devices to facilitate recovery.
- Recognize the role of medications in the recovery process.
- Provide patient education necessary to facilitate recovery.
5. ORGANIZATION AND PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY
- Ensure compliance with state and federal laws, as well as policies of accredited agencies, when delivering healthcare.
- Utilize standard coding and documentation practices, ensuring all medical records meet regulatory and legal standards.
- Follow regulations regarding the storage, transportation, administering, and documentation of commonly-used medications.
ATHLETIC TRAINERS IN SCHOOLS
As attention to athlete safety has grown over the years, so has the presence of athletic trainers at schools. Whereas in 2009 NATA reported only 42% of high schools had access to athletic trainers, as of 2013 it is estimated about two-thirds of high schools now have access to athletic trainers, whether part-time or full-time.
NATA has published a checklist of safety resources parents should look for in a high school athletic program. They include:
- Emergency plan
- Full-time, onsite BOC Certified Athletic Trainer
- Team Physician/Consulting Physician
- Pre-participation physical exam for all athletes (annually)
- Inclement weather protocol/guidelines
- Continuing education for coaches
- “Return to Participation Following Injury” protocol
- Field/facility maintenance plan
- Properly maintained athletic equipment
- Conditioning programs