Role of the Athletic Trainer
Although athletic trainers cannot formally diagnose injuries, they can administer first response, and educate athletes on injury prevention, rehabilitation and proper nutrition.
"Education is a lot of what athletic training is about," Gaetano Sanchioli, MS, ATC, LAT, PES, an athletic trainer at Keystone Oaks High School in Pittsburgh said. "We educate the athletes on topics such as proper exercise/conditioning techniques. In an injury situation we educate the athlete about anatomy, healing, recovery and the psychological issues that go along with it. An ATC—certified athletic trainer—works with coaching staffs to make sure that their practices and drills are being carried out safely."
When working with school-age athletes, many athletic trainers help student-athletes overcome the first injuries of their young careers – both physically and emotionally. The athletic trainer will help athletes formally address their injury issues, understand what is needed to overcome them, and teach the importance of an overall healthy lifestyle.
With most injuries, the athletic trainer’s job begins with an evaluation: often a “ruling-out” process that begins by trying to eliminate the most extreme injuries. For instance, if an athlete injures his or her ACL, an athletic trainer will evaluate that area of the knee, performing simple tests to make sure there isn't a possible fracture, vascular or nerve injury. An assessment of the stability of the knee joint is then performed, with special testing that is specific to the ligaments and cartilage. Finally, muscle testing determines any muscle/tendon damage that might contribute to the injury.
After the initial evaluation, trainers typically obtain a brief medical history and assess how the injury occurred. If an injury needs more care than an athletic trainer can provide, the situation is immediately turned over to a physician for diagnosis and possibly more testing. Athletic trainers are required to keep in communication with the physician to stay on top of the diagnosing process. Many times the doctor turns back to the athletic trainer for the rehabilitation process, after there has been a diagnosis.
The best prognosis for an athlete's recovery is when there is open communication between the athlete, athletic trainer, and physician.