Many teams are now competing for championships, bowl positions and other awards. Athletes are being seriously recruited for scholarships or professional contracts. It is not by coincidence that the most intense competition happens when individuals and teams are most challenged by fatigue and injury.
During this part of the season, a good working relationship between the medical staff and coaching staff is essential. Athletic trainers and team physicians must weigh the risks to athletes when granting permission to play after an injury.
In the past, these decisions were straightforward and based on the type of injury and what were very limited resources for rehabilitation. In sports medicine today, many new surgical and medical modalities allow for athletes to return sooner without significant risk.
The most noteworthy advancements have been in the area of orthopedic surgery. Athletes now return as soon as the week after injury when previously, similar fractured bones eliminated them for the season.
Their recovery is due to the insertion of hardware in the form of plates and screws that align the fracture. This stabilizes the site and allows a speedy recovery.
The resourcefulness of athletic trainers is an important component. One example is a quarterback who is able to return thanks to the creative design of an immobilizing boot fashioned around a football shoe. Another example is a defensive player who is able to start at his position only days after having hardware applied for a hand fracture using a specially designed glove/cast.
As football season comes to a close, good coaches know that some of their most valuable assets work in the training room and have the initials “ATC” after their names.