UW study suggests athletic trainers play important role in managing student injuries
MADISON, Wis. — Recently released results from a University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health study suggest athletic trainer availability in high schools can be critical to managing injuries such as concussions.
“We’re kind of like the first line,” Scott Cole said.
As an athletic trainer at Deforest High School, Cole said he’s the first line when a student-athlete is hurt, adding that the position and communication he has with students is invaluable.
“Student-athletes trust us,” he said. “They know us. They rely on us.”
Cole is on hand at sporting events but also spends about 20 hours a week at Deforest High School.
“The nice thing is I get to see these athletes every single day,” he said.
Across the state, UW-Health sports medicine researcher Tim McGuine said most schools have athletic trainers, but there’s a disparity when it comes to their availability. The licensed professionals can spend anywhere from one hour to more than 40 hours a week at schools.
McGuine was the principal investigator in a study looking into what difference the availability of athletic trainers like Cole makes on sports-related concussions.
“We want to see kids be athletic, but also provide them with medical care that keeps them healthy for their whole lives, and I don’t think that’s asking a lot,” he said.
The study compared 31 Wisconsin high schools, dividing them by low, mid and high athletic trainer availability.
Results show athletes at low-availability schools waited, on average, a day to be seen for a sports-related concussion, compared to about an hour for athletes at mid- and high-availability schools.
The study also indicated about half of athletes with low athletic trainer availability completed proper “return to sport” protocol, as compared to more than 90 percent with mid-availability to trainers and 100 percent at high-availability schools.
In addition, students at schools with high athletic trainer access were more likely to be diagnosed with a concussion than the athletes at schools where athletic trainers spend less time.
“Every school administrator we talk to in our study or when we do surveys around the state, they will admit that having athletic trainers available is ideal, and they would like to have more, but they’re pushed by their athletic budgets, what they can do,” McGuine said.
He suggests parents get involved and ask schools questions about their athletic trainers.
McGuine said athletic trainers can also save families money by determining whether a visit to the emergency room or a doctor’s office is necessary.
At Deforest High School, which is classified as having mid-availability of athletic trainers, Cole hopes the first line will expand in schools across the state.
“Most high schools have school nurses, and I hope athletic trainers just become part of that community,” he said.
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