Player safety a focus at Rothman's IMPACT Conference

Today, many young baseball players pitch all year round.

No one can deny that professional athletes are under more of a microscope today with sports fans watching their every move and this includes when they get injured. Everyone has a say in whether they are safe to return to play.

At the Rothman Institute's IMPACT OF SPORTS co-hosted by Sports Illustrated and held November 10th at the Lincoln Financial Field, Rothman Institute doctors and Peter King, senior writer at Sports Illustrated discussed player safety in the "Injured Athlete" panel which was moderated by B.J.Schecter, Executive Editor of Sports Illustrated.

King explained that the world is paying a lot more attention to professional athletes' injuries today. He pointed out how in the case of the National Football League's Wide Receiver Wes Welkers and his history of concussions, the world was telling him not to play, but three team neurologists were saying it was okay to get back in the game.

While there is still a call for more research, there have been some advances in player safety. One of the key tools, especially when it comes to concussions, is standardized medical records although Dr. Michael Ciccotti, head team physician, Phillies & 76ers Consultant said these records are still relatively new.

The NFL is helping fund the building of a registry where an athlete's complete concussion history can be documented. During the panel, King mentioned the recent partnership between the NFL and the International Concussion and Head Injury Research Foundation to fund research on long-term effects and risk factors of concussions in sports. The announcement was made at the 2nd Annual International Professional Sports Concussion Research Think Tank in London which was hosted by the NFL.

Concussions are also a concern for players of other high impact sports as well and Dr. Gary Dorshimer, head team physician for Philadelphia Flyers, and team internist for Philadelphia Eagles said that "the National Hockey League has a formal concussion committee looking at the relationship of cumulative concussions as well.They are trying to be proactive and collect data. They want to have as many facts as possible because some players have major effects from concussive hits, while others do not."

Dr. Christopher Dodson, head team physician for the 76ers and Eagles Consultant said,“awareness is important, especially for young athletes. They need to know that when a concussion is suspected that they need to be evaluated and they shouldn't go back into the game."

Schecter brought up the fact that athletes will sometimes lie about concussions because they don't want to be sidelined. He asked the doctors, "What can you do?"

Dr. Ciccotti said that there are subtle balance, reaction time and speed tests that can be done. "If there is any chance there was a concussion, a healthcare provider will keep a player out of game."

"It all comes down to research and registry. That is why we like to partner with media to get right information to the general public."

Rehabilitation is also changing to increase player safety. "Rehab used to be very injury specific, but we are learning that the whole body needs to be part of it to prevent future injuries," Dr. Ciccotti explained.

A strong core is essential to all athletes because when an athlete returns to the game after an injury they will be using their whole body not just the injured part.

"You are more likely to injure the non-injured knee than re-injure the one you had surgery on," he added.

Dr. Dorshimer explained that leagues are changing training regimens and rules to reduce injuries, but that some injuries just can't be avoided.

According to Dr. Ciccotti, the increase in sports specialization at an earlier age seems to have contributed to many overuse injuries. He pointed out professional baseball players in the past tended to play multiple sports as youths and didn't specialize until they were older.

This pressure to specialize at a young age comes from the push athletes feel to be bigger and faster and to take their sport to the next level.  Today we have 9 year olds pitching all year round which can lead to more injuries at an earlier age.

"If you are having elbow surgery at 13, realistically you probably won't make it to the major leagues," said Dr. Dodson said.

With their younger athletes, the Rothman doctors said besides sports specialization another risk factor for injury is returning to play too soon, especially after an ACL injury.

According to Dr. Dodson, while a professional basketball player will take ten to twelve months to come back after surgery, youth and high school and college athletes want to come back quicker. Often when he treats a young athlete, mom and dad want to know right away when their son or daughter can return to play.

"We are continually learning more about rehab and safe return to play. At Rothman we are working specifically on ACL protocols," added Dr. Ciccotti. "It really comes back to communication." 

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