Becoming Better Sports Medicine Professionals
2 minute read
The 2 things that I've noticed about professional and high-level collegiate sports over time are that athletes are progressively becoming bigger, stronger, and faster. And that it's now assumed that athletes will experience a soft-tissue injury—small or large—over the course of their career.
A study conducted in 2009 suggested that in elite athletics, the fastest runners and swimmers are becoming not only faster, but also heavier and taller.1 This same study suggested that this positive correlation of increased athletic ability and size can be expected to continue. Increases in sheer size and athletic ability seen in these premier athletes can be attributed to increased knowledge in strength and conditioning, increased knowledge in nutrition and supplementation, and new equipment options to choose from.
Another study of university level athletes across 7 sport disciplines reported athletes sustained on average more than 2 injuries each year.2 Personally, I found this statistic to be very concerning. It's apparent to me that the increased intensity and speed that these now bigger and stronger athletes perform at has played a role in injuries becoming a normal part of athletics.
Let's turn our attention to a six-foot eight-inch, 250-pound professional basketball player, in his 16th year in the National Basketball Association, who has played in 1,198 games out of a possible 1,312 games. This athlete is Lebron James. Now, his performance, stats, and longevity could very well be attributed to James being a freak of nature, but I don't think that is solely the case. It's been reported that James spends a large amount of money per year on his body by using the best sports medicine professionals in the business. And while I could go on and talk about James, his performance, and his medical team, I want to focus on the latter.
If athletes today are at the peak of athletic performance and ability, shouldn't we as sports medicine professionals be at the peak of our knowledge and skills to work with them?
In physical therapy school we learn about the basics of exercise technique, manual therapy, and injury prevention. But that's just covering the surface.
In order for us to take the next step in helping athletes succeed and perform to their best abilities, we, as professionals, must keep up on the new and current evidence on athlete injury prevention and body maintenance.
A common issue reported in research is poor or lack of communication between physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches. One article stated that in order to reach the best outcomes, communication and collaboration among all individuals caring for the athlete is a must.3 This would suggest that at a minimum we need to be in contact with our athletes' strength and conditioning professionals. As physical therapy students learning the basics of strength training programs and actively trying to bridge the gap between physical therapy and strength and conditioning, I hope that we are working toward better collaboration and communication with our counterparts.
Just like our young athletes starting off with a dream to make it big, there's only 1 way to reach the professional level. Constant hard work on our craft. If we can continue to push ourselves and evolve as sports medicine professionals in ways that might not have been the norm before, we can potentially change the game when it comes to elite athletes and sports injuries.
Matthew Buchner, SPT, is a student at Sacred Heart University. He has a strong interest in the fields of sports physical therapy and sports medicine.
Charles JD, Bejan A. The evolution of speed, size, and shape in modern athletics. J Exp Biol. 2009;212(Pt 15):2419–2425.
Lemoyne J, Poulin C, Richer N, Bussières A. Analyzing injuries among university-level athletes: prevalence, patterns, and risk factors. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2017;61(2):88–95.
Reiman MP, Lorenz DS. Integration of strength and conditioning principles into a rehabilitation program. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2011;6(3):241–253.