School and the beginning of fall sports are quickly approaching. That means it’s a good time to consider how to safeguard the health and well-being of our student-athletes.

Who helps oversee the health and well-being of local student-athletes?

Cheyenne high schools are partnering with Cheyenne Regional Medical Center/Cheyenne Regional Medical Group to employ an athletic trainer at each high school. These trainers are certified and licensed professionals who practice in the field of sports medicine and focus on injury and illness prevention; immediate and emergency care; therapeutic intervention; and examination, assessment and diagnosis of illnesses and injuries.

In the high schools, the trainers will coordinate the prevention, evaluation, rehabilitation and return to play of all athletes sustaining an injury. An athletic trainer may coordinate an athlete’s return to play under the direction of or in collaboration with a physician, but in all cases, as is recommended by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), the trainer will direct a student’s return to play to avoid a potential conflict of interest by the coaches and/or athletes.

How do you know if a student-athlete is physically and mentally prepared for a sports season?

First and foremost, the sport should be something the athlete wants to do and will be engaged in. Young athletes should never be forced or pressured into participating in a sport, as this can increase their risk of injury.

All athletes must have a pre-participation exam to determine physical readiness to play and determine any condition that may limit participation. It’s important to know if any underlying medical conditions are present that could worsen with increased physical activity or could put the athlete at an increased risk for injury.

Parents – with input from the athlete, coaches, athletic trainers and medical providers – should also determine if the student is mentally ready to play the sport.

Seeing a medical provider familiar with the student-athlete, such as the child’s primary care provider (PCP), is the best option for determining a student’s readiness to play a sport. A child’s PCP is more likely to detect a subtle change from one year to the next, both mentally and physically. In addition, the student-athlete may be more comfortable with the PCP and willing to share any questions or concerns.

What can be done to help prevent a student- athlete from becoming injured?

  • As mentioned previously, make sure the student is physically and mentally fit for participation.
  • The student should be well-rested and get an appropriate amount of sleep each night (at least 8 hours).
  • The student should eat regular, well-balanced meals, based on activity level.
  • The student should avoid consuming energy drinks and other drinks high in sugar and caffeine.
  • The student needs to stay well-hydrated, drinking enough water before, during and after activity.

The athletic trainer or PCP can provide more detailed recommendations based on individual circumstances and needs.

How many sports-related concussions/brain injuries are there in the United States each year?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sports-related traumatic brain injuries occur each year, with about 63,000 occurring in high school sports.

With the increased attention and scrutiny on head injuries, what can be done to prevent a concussion and treat a concussion?

Make sure that the athlete is using proper techniques with contact and is wearing appropriately fitted and sized equipment. While this is important, there is no way to truly prevent or avoid a concussion while participating in sports.

The best way to approach a concussion is to understand that it is a serious injury that can lead to significant problems and even death if not evaluated and treated appropriately.

Athletes, parents and coaches should all be educated about concussions by the athletic training staff. It is important that an athlete feel encouraged and supported if he or she is hit in the head and suffering from concussion symptoms, including (but not limited to) dizziness, headache, memory loss, lightheadedness and fatigue. Knowing and recognizing the symptoms is vital to the recovery process. It is also vital that the athlete report any symptoms to the athletic trainer (when available) or the head coach so that appropriate treatment can begin.

There is one more piece of advice that all parents, student-athletes and coaches need to be aware of and follow: “WHEN IN DOUBT SIT THEM OUT.”

Tammy Cain, MS, LAT, ATC, was born and raised in Cheyenne. She has a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and a master’s degree in exercise science from the University of Wyoming. She is also certified as an athletic trainer and is licensed in the State of Wyoming. She has worked for Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and its affiliated medical group for more than 14 years. She currently works as a certified athletic trainer at Wyoming Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. She is an avid University of Wyoming fan and enjoys all sports.

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