Navigating the Chaos: A Physical Therapist’s Perspective on Injuries in High School Sports

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Clock is winding down– three minutes left in the first half. Barrow girls are up by ten over Homer HS. The game is getting messy. Elbows flying, blood dripping, fans going so crazy the cops are called–essentially the perfect storm for injuries. Out of the corner of my eye I see a girl with the look of utter disbelief combined with hysteria. Her teammate raises her finger and draws a right angle in the air. I instantly get that “oh crap” feeling, as I suspect the girl dislocated her finger–that feeling is correct, index finger at a perfect 90 degrees.

The Unpredictability of Sports Injuries

As physical therapists, we are not extensively trained in emergency medicine. We typically see people after they have been patched up. It is up to the individual to seek out their own skills for athletic training based services; therefore, throughout my time with Grace Christian volleyball and basketball, I’ve learned the value of improvisation, quick thinking, and confidence. You simply cannot know everything nor be prepared for every injury that will occur (which is an uncomfortable place to live). You have to capitalize on your extensive knowledge in anatomy to deliver your care with confidence and know when to ask for the four letter word– “help.”

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Working as a sport PT at high-level games is a fun and rewarding experience, but I think the flashiness of the job over-shadows the work and responsibility you have as a provider. You are not simply watching the games for entertainment waiting for someone to get hurt. I watch for movement patterns during warm-up– how do players jump/land when going up for a lay-up? How are players decelerating as they break down for a close-out? Who’s wearing ankle/knee braces? When a player hits the floor, I watch their response as they attempt to get up, not the continuous run of play. The attention to detail throughout the game is how I as a PT stay prepared for unknown injuries that may happen in a game even though I am not a formally trained athletic trainer. You make the most of what you have, and never stop growing and learning with experience.

The Sound of Silence: A Provider's Cue to Action

The worst sound you can hear at a game is silence. When bones hit the floor and silence overcomes the crowd– that is my cue as a provider to step into action. All eyes on you, including the player and coach that look to you for immediate answers and reassurance. Sometimes injuries keep players from returning to the game, and you have to deliver bad news. Whether or not the player or coach complies with your suggestions, it’s a part of the job that requires confidence and maturity.

Challenges and Rewards

While being involved in event coverage has stretched me as a physical therapist and has challenged me to step out of my box, I have enjoyed every second of it (maybe aside from the finger dislocation). I love the personal connections you make with players and coaches on field/court as you can feel the confidence they have in you to take care of their players. It’s a side of the job I will cherish and never stop exploring.

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If you are a young athlete or parent of an athlete reading this needing advice on an injury, let me reassure you that I am the person you need to talk with. I have been the injured athlete myself (many times) in soccer, basketball, running, and even swimming. I have the experience as a provider but more importantly as someone who’s been side-lined from the game they love and have found a way to overcome the adversity stronger for it. I have a special passion for adolescent athletes that I want to share with you.

Please reach out with questions and/or comments, and I would love to answer them. You can also schedule a discovery visit here at Runners’ Edge. This is a free 20-minute consultation to chat about your injury and how we can create a game plan for you moving forward. Basketball season will end before you know it, so don’t waste any time with injury, set up a meeting with me today! Click the link below!

In addition, if you are a high school/college student interested in sport physical therapy and/or event coverage, call Runners’ Edge Alaska and apply to shadow me at a game! I’ll give you the rundown of one of the coolest jobs in the world.

Written By: 
Morgan Lash, PT, DPT, CSCS

Morgan Lash PT DPT CSCS Runners Edge Physio Anchorage Alaska

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