Dr. Christopher Rial: Sports safety in middle and high school begins with preparation

This article first appeared online at GoErie.com on Jan. 22, 2023.

With recent events, many parents have started to question the risks involved with allowing children to play team sports in middle school and high school.

Injuries are unpredictable, and there is no foolproof method to ensure complete safety. To account for these risks, behind-the-scenes protocols are often in place to protect children, should an incident occur.

A team physician helps to organize a sports medicine team. He or she works with athletic trainers, emergency medical service personnel and fitness specialists to establish protocols, assess and treat injuries, and provide sideline coverage. Open communication with a family’s primary care physician and specialists is paramount.

Perhaps the most important step of the injury prevention process is the preparticipation physical evaluation. Traditionally referred to as a sports physical, this exam is completed months before the start of the season.

The PPE can call attention to potential medical problems before emergency treatment is necessary. For instance, a player may have a rare, baseline heart condition, or poorly controlled asthma. Knowing these conditions exist prior to stepping onto a playing field is the best way to avoid injury.

Developing relationships with the players’ parents or guardians is also important in understanding the physical and mental wellbeing of an athlete.

Mental health is just as important as physical health: Student athletes often have tremendous responsibilities off the field, as well as a variety of stresses that can impact their mental health.

Preparation, preparation and more preparation is the key to keeping athletes safe.

While joint and soft tissue injuries are the most common at a sporting event, catastrophic emergencies can occur. Although rare, these can involve neck, head and cardiac conditions.

Team physicians may attend dozens of consecutive events without serious incident, only to have a life-threatening emergency occur in a split second. This is why it is so important for practice scenarios and mock drills to take place on an ongoing basis to help keep the medical team sharp.

Before a sporting event, a pregame healthcare huddle or meet takes place. This involves both visiting and home athletic trainers, the EMS crew, officials and a team physician.

The parties assess conditions at the venue, including identifying the location of lifesaving equipment such as automated external defibrillators, and determining how an ambulance or helicopter could safely evacuate an injured player or spectator.

The medical team is positioned strategically at the venue to minimize blind spots. The mechanism of an injury may dictate the order of treatment; therefore, it is the medical personnel’s duty to remain attentive from the beginning to the end of a competition.

Athletic trainers, EMS personnel, medical assistants and the parents/guardians are the unsung advocates and heroes of middle and high school athletics. It is a privilege to work side-by-side with these individuals as a team physician.

Sports safety begins with preparation. Injury prevention starts with involvement. Be involved with your children, your families, your school district and your community.

Dr. Christopher Rial is a sports medicine physician with LECOM Health Specialists and Corry Memorial Hospital Rural Health Clinic.

Christopher Rial, D.O.

Call (814) 868-2179 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rial at LECOM Health Specialists. Call (814) 664-3979 to schedule an appointment at Corry Memorial Hospital Rural Hospital.