What student athletes should learn from the pros is that when you get knocked down, it may be best to stay down and heal until you’re ready to get back up again. The Family Awareness Network of New Trier Township Schools, in cooperation with NorthShore University HealthSystem and Glencoe School District 35, brings two nationally renowned sports doctors to Glencoe in April to talk about sports injuries and what parents (and their kids) need to know for a healthy, long-term recovery.
Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose sidelined for back injuries during February’s 95-91 loss to the Boston Celtics. Painful.
Quarterback Jay Cutler watching from the bench with a fractured thumb as his Chicago Bears team is summarily dismissed from the championships. Excruciating.
Injured Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith sitting down while his team slumped through a recent losing streak. Devastating.
In the world of professional sports, one injury can change everything. As fans, we watch and we wait, hoping for a quick recovery, and hoping even more that the team around the fallen one will rally to keep momentum going. But ultimately we know that as quickly as that thumb got fractured, or that ligament was torn, putting it back together again won’t happen overnight.
The same applies to our children. Whether you have an 8-year-old soccer dynamo dreaming of a spot on the Barclays Premier League’s Liverpool team someday, or a high school quarterback with plans for a college career, nothing hurts a parent more than to see their kid get hurt playing the sport they love.
What do you do?
How long do you wait before it’s safe again to send them back on the field, the court, or the arena?
On April 17, the Family Awareness Network of New Trier Township schools, in partnership with NorthShore University HealthSystem and Glencoe School District 65, presents a dynamic program designed to help parents and school leaders keep our student athletes safe.
“Protecting Student Athletes: Concussions, ACL Tears, Overuse Injuries and More” will feature Mark Crabtree, director of Sports Performance at the Bulls/Sox Training Academy, as well as Dr. Julian E. Bailes, chairman of the neurosurgery department at NorthShore University HealthSystem and consultant to the NFL Player’s Association, and Dr. Mark K. Bowen, orthopaedic surgeon and team doctor for the Chicago Bears.
“I think that parents need to understand that it is possible to injure the body by excessive participation in any activity,” explains Bowen, who lives in Winnetka and sent his children to New Trier Township High School. “It is important to physically prepare for sports and progress the level of intensity in a careful and logical way. It is also important to plan for rest to allow the body to recover.”
Bowen, a New Trier Township High School graduate himself, says high school sports has changed since he was a kid. “When I was at New Trier, athletes often competed in multiple sports.”
The same student who played football for the Trevians in the fall might have also played basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. Today’s athletic climate is more competitive, with students more likely to choose a single sport to focus on — competing year-round and seeking intense outside training in the off-season. This strategy might be great for breeding future college or even professional level athletes. However, it also comes with a higher risk for overuse injuries.
“Cross training and core strengthening of the most important body parts involved in a particular sport are also critical to minimize the incidence of injuries,” Bowen adds. “Playing other sports and participating in other fitness activities is important in the development of other muscle groups and types of conditioning not typical of their primary sport.”
Bailes, who is also medical director of Pop Warner Little Scholars youth football, founding member of the Brain Injury Research Institute and former team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, says while he doesn’t necessarily see a rise in sports injuries, what we know about them has changed significantly.
As a surgeon who works on football players, his specialty is concussions and the long-term effects head injuries can have on players of any age. If there appears to be an increase in concussions, he says, it’s only because they’re being recognized earlier.
“We feel that we’ve learned more about concussions in the past decade than we ever knew before. We used to think of a concussion not as the brain being injured; just not working right,” explains Bailes, who has supported research on the effects of head injuries on professional athletes as a neurological consultant to the NFL Players Association. “We always used to call concussion a mild, traumatic brain injury. We don’t like to use that term anymore. Even mild concussions can have implications and long-term consequences.”
Long-term consequences. Those words alone are enough to put fear in the heart of any parent. But don’t be scared, the doctors say. Just be smart. Smart about getting your son or daughter immediate treatment if they get hurt, and smart about when to send them back to the game after they heal.
“There are significant benefits related to involvement in sports, especially in a team setting. Almost any physical activity presents the possibility of injury and the type, risk level and frequency varies greatly with the type of activity,” says Bowen, whose three sons played a multitude of sports at New Trier. “Different sports carry different risk profiles. It is not just the sports that involve contact that we see significant injuries in.”
As serious as a concussion may turn out to be, it’s important not to underestimate the long-term damage that a sprain or dislocation can cause if it’s not treated promptly and appropriately.
“The most common significant knee injury that has a major impact on an athlete is a tear of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). This is a serious injury that has been treated successfully with modern surgeries. The frequency of this injury in young teenage girls is of particular concern,” adds Bowen, who in addition to his work with the Chicago Bears, has also cared for the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Blackhawks. “Sprains and dislocations are the most common shoulder injuries that occur in athletes. Some respond to conservative treatment and others end up requiring a surgical approach.”
As long as the athlete follows the doctor’s orders and sticks to a rehabilitation plan, those injuries can and will heal. And that’s what this April 17 program is all about — education and awareness.
“We know so much more about the science behind what happens, about why concussions occur, how to recognize them and the importance of a player not going into harms way until it’s been deemed they are free of their concussions,” Bailes adds. “It’s important for parents to understand the symptoms and how they occur. And if there’s any doubt, pull them out.”
The April 17 program will be held at Central School’s Misner Auditorium, 620 Greenwood Ave., in Glencoe. For more information or to RSVP, go to www.fan-ntts.org.
At the Chicago Bulls/Sox Academy, an ounce of prevention and training goes a long way for young athletes.
When Mark Crabtree, director of Sports Performance at the Chicago Bulls/Sox Training Academy, joins renowned sports medicine doctors at the April 17 event, he won’t be talking about injuries and tears and sprains.
His primary role at the youth training facility is to prevent such things from happening in the first place.
“I’m an athletic trainer by education,” says Crabtree, explaining that his job is similar to those “sideline trainers you might seen on TV” when a professional athlete gets hurt.
“I mostly work with athletes before they have the unfortunate experience of becoming injured — in what we do, we’re hoping to prepare their body better for standing the rigors of sports.”
A young, growing athlete is an amazing creature. By looking at their developing bodies as a whole unit, the focus at the academy is to train for healthy mobility and motion.
“Young athletes are growing so fast and their muscles and bones grow at different speeds,” he explains. “The bones grow faster than the muscles can keep up.”
With tight hips and tight hamstrings, the possibility for overuse injuries in any sport increases. The academy, which trains young baseball, basketball and fast-pitch softball players as well as those who play football, soccer and hockey, emphasizes movement and the importance of a strong body core.
And if an athlete does get injured, the goal is to help them rehabilitate in a healthy and productive way.
“We encourage them to stay within a realm of safety while conditioning the rest of their body,” Crabtree adds. “We work on strengthening their core while they rehabilitate. That way, when they get a full release, they’ll be ready to go. In the past, they would shut everything down while waiting for the injury to heal. We try to work together with physicians and physical therapists to keep them ready to go and prepared for activity.”
The Chicago Bulls/Sox Academy is located in Lisle. For more information, go to www.bullssoxacademy.com.