Today's News

Thursday, February 14, 2002

When doubt, keep the athlete out

The tendency among high school athletes to "tough it out" requires team physicians to be tough themselves about protecting young players, Mary Lloyd Ireland, MD, said during a media briefing yesterday.

An estimated 10 million adolescents participate in high school sports each year. "Team physicians can prevent many injuries by erring on the side of caution in making sideline decisions," said Dr. Ireland, who serves as team physician for Eastern Kentucky University in Lexington.

A consensus statement on Sideline Preparedness for the Team Physician developed by the AAOS, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Sports Medicine and several other organizations advises physicians to be conservative in allowing an injured high school athlete to return to play.

"We may look like heroes when we get an injured player back in the game, but we have to stick to our guns about what's best for the athlete," said Dr. Ireland, who moderated an instructional course at the AAOS meeting on sideline decisions for the team physician. "Team physicians face considerable pressure from parents, coaches and the athletes themselves, however, the young person's safety and well-being must come first.

"Knowing what's best for the athlete can be tricky, however, because minor injuries can sometimes look more serious than they really are, and more dire injuries can at times appear minor because the athlete experiences relatively little pain.

"I've had coaches worry about a dislocated finger that looks bad, but is minor, and then not understand the seriousness of a concussion or neck injury," she said. "Serious multiple ligament injuries of the knee associated with nerve damage can be masked because the athlete does not feel pain."

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Last modified 15/February/2002