1. Provide athletic trainers for youth teams. Many practices around the country work with high school and college programs to provide athletic trainers for those events, but practices can go a step further and volunteer for younger athletes at Little League games. Trainers can spend time with the athletes during practice and in the locker room to ensure they are maintaining healthy habits, and then sit on the sidelines during games in case an injury occurs. For youth sports, volunteering on the sidelines can help build trust among the athletes and their parents so when an injury does occur, they can depend on your trainers and surgeons to take good care of them.
"In some way, shape or form, our practice works with 30-35 high schools, a handful of colleges and the Chicago Bears," says Dr. Corcoran. "We do our best to provide athletic trainers to the teams and be present on the sidelines during game time. Athletic trainers are our foot soldiers."
2. Stay open on Saturdays for injury clinics. Even though trainers or physicians are present at the youth athletic events, it's also necessary to open the practice on Saturday morning for injury clinics. When athletes experience a sprain or strain during their Friday night game, they'll be able to wait until Saturday morning to have it checked at the clinic. This way, the athletes won't have to wait in a busy ER for examination and treatment of minor injuries.
"On Saturday mornings, we have a clinic where athletes can come in and receive an X-ray, MRI or other diagnostic tests they might need," says Dr. Corcoran. "Sometimes people might think they only have an ankle sprain, but really they've sustained a growth plate fracture which needs to be addressed and fixed. These patients don't need to be in the ER, so they come to visit us the morning after the injury. The vast majority of the patients we see can have their injuries addressed on an outpatient basis, especially if they've already been working with our athletic trainer."
3. Parent and coach education. Coaches and parents want to help their children succeed in sports, but many of them don't have the appropriate tools or education to teach their children how to prevent injuries or care for their children when minor injuries occur. Sports medicine practices and physicians can provide this education at preseason meetings or during seminars hosted throughout the year. At these meetings, physicians talk to parents and coaches about head and neck injuries, concussions, hydration and nutrition appropriate for young athletes.
"Before the start of Little League, we go out and give talks about injuries the athletes are prone to have," says Dr. Corcoran. "We also get the sports performance guys involved in addressing the mechanics problems so we can solve them at an earlier age. A vast majority of our injury prevention efforts are focused on this education."
Depending on the level of competitiveness, surgeons give different types of talks. For example, when giving a presentation to the Illinois High School Association of Football Referees about evaluating concussions, the surgeons will devise a sophisticated PowerPoint presentation discussing the protocol for head injury. When addressing an audience of Little League players and their parents, the surgeons are more apt to just talk about preventing injuries and provide handouts with practice and personal contact information. Dr. Corcoran always gives parents, coaches and athletes cards with his cell phone number, pager, email address and practice contact information so they can reach him any time with a question or concern about sports injuries.
4. Keep parents focused on the real goal: having fun. There are several important points to address during meetings about injury prevention, but physicians also need to remind parents and coaches of the first goal of youth sports: to have fun. "I try to emphasize with coaches and parents that first and foremost, sports are supposed to be fun," says Dr. Corcoran. "The kids need to be treated with respect and have fun when they are playing. If it is 95 degrees out and the Bears aren't practicing because it's too hot, the little guys don't need to be out on the field in full pads either."
5. Host events for discounted preseason physicals. Every year, Dr. Corcoran's practice takes part in an effort to provide preseason physicals to youth athletes in the community. The physicals included expertise from orthopedic surgeons, ophthalmologists, dentists and other medical processionals that examine the children and clear them for play. The physicals cost $20, which is affordable for people in the community. "We pumped about 500 kids through our office space during that event," says Dr. Corcoran.
The physical charge of $20 goes back to the athletic department of the athlete's school and is used on the athletes or athletic training supplies.
6. Maintain sports-related programs. OAK Orthopedics has a sports performance injury development program, which is designed to evaluate athletes who might be at high risk for injury. The program includes a functional movement test that examines the mechanical deficiencies an athlete has. Once the deficiencies are identified, surgeons or specialists can work with the athletes to develop a routine that will balance their mechanics and potentially prevent future injury. For example, some female athletes are at an increased risk for ACL injuries because of their biomechanics.
"Female athletes have more of a propensity to land with knees collapsing to the inside," says Dr. Corcoran. "There are programs we can put female athletes through that will help them learn to land in a more sustainable way."
7. Invest in a medical van. In addition to providing athletic trainers on the sidelines and Saturday morning sports injury clinics, OAK Orthopedics has a medical van equipped with X-ray capabilities and a surgical suite that allows injured athletes to receive immediate care. The van is stationed with the Chicago Bears training camp when it's in session, but when camp is over the van travels to Friday night and Saturday morning athletic events.
"There is a physician and X-ray technician who staff the van to evaluate injuries wherever the van may go," says Dr. Corcoran. "We've done minor surgeries in the suite. We've also treated athletes with dislocations. From an orthopedic surgeon's perspective, it's like a traveling OR."
Related Articles on Sports Medicine:
How Physicians Can Help Decrease Injuries in Young Athletes: Q&A With Rothman Institute's Dr. Michael Ciccotti
4 Points Physicians Should Cover During Meetings With Coaches
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7 Ways for Orthopedic Practices to Focus on Youth Sports MedicineWritten by Laura Miller | September 13, 2011
Michael Corcoran, MD, orthopedic surgeon at OAK Orthopedics in Bradley, Ill., and team physician for the Chicago Bears, discusses seven ways to focus your practice on young athletes.
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