In central Pennsylvania, UPMC has a team of sports medicine providers who work with area schools and colleges. They help athletes regain their strength and agility after a sports-related injury and understand the importance of the recovery process. Below, they answer questions about their role on the sidelines and personal experience in working with young competitors.
Sports medicine doctors Kush Patel, MD, and Michael Yurkewicz, DO, PinnacleHealth Bone and Joint Center, support East Pennsboro High School. Dr. Patel, who sees patients at the PinnacleHealth Bone and Joint Center and Arlington Orthopedics-UPMC, Newport, also supports Newport High School. Orthopaedic surgeon Tim Ackerman, DO, Arlington Orthopedics-UPMC, supports Susquenita High School.
Q. What are common sports injuries?
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“Any sport can lead to any injury. Sports that use the lower body more than the upper body have higher rates of knee or hip injuries. Conversely, sports that use the upper body tend to have more shoulder and elbow injuries. Sprains and strains usually are treated in a nonsurgical way, and athletes often return to play in a few weeks depending on the injury. More severe injuries such as ACL tears or labral tears can have longer recovery times if surgery is needed, but nonoperative care can be a possibility depending upon the situation,” says Dr. Wool.
“We see fractures and dislocations periodically. Often, they can be treated on the sidelines. An assessment of possible concussions also is important immediately after any impact,” says Dr. Richards.
Q. What is your role in working with athletes to get them back to their activity? What is the healing process for the different orthopaedic injuries you treat?
“As the team physician, I diagnose the injury and oversee and direct the athlete’s care to make sure that they recover properly. We work with the sports medicine team, which may include physical therapists and athletic trainers, to coordinate the athlete’s care,” says Dr. Holzshu.
“My role is to treat the patient to return them to their activity as soon as they are healthy enough to do so. This can include nonoperative measures such as prescribing physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, or an injection. Off the field, my role involves performing orthopaedic surgery, when necessary, to get the athlete back to their sport and to doing the things they like to do in their daily lives,” says Dr. Wool.
Q. Can you provide an example of when your presence on the sidelines at a sporting event was imperative?
“During a college football game, I examined an injured player after impact. It was determined that he had ruptured his kidney and spleen, so he was airlifted from the field to a trauma hospital. Having specialized medical care on the sidelines helped this athlete to receive the emergency care he needed to fully recover and play football the following season,” says Dr. Richards.
Q. What are the parents’ main concerns when their kids play sports?
“I have found that most parents worry about their child’s safety and success. Coaches, athletic trainers, and medical staff work together to keep an athlete safe and put them in the best possible position to succeed. Every season, there is a conversation with coaches, parents, and athletic trainers on how to prevent and treat injuries as they arise. This team approach, which keeps the athlete’s safety and success in the center, ensures the best possible outcome for the season,” says Dr. Wool.
Q. What is your advice to a student-athlete who is injured and doesn’t want to stop playing?
“I would advise that athlete to have patience. Returning too soon may put them at risk for further injury and it could prolong their overall recovery,” says Dr. Holzshu. “I encourage young athletes to consider the long-term goals. They need to ask themselves questions like: ‘What is my favorite sport?’, ‘What is a camp or competition I can’t miss?’, and ‘Do I want to compete at the next level?’ Playing through injury can compromise these long-term goals. Sacrificing a few practices or games to recover in order to achieve the ultimate goal is worth it in the end,” says Dr. Wool.
Q. How has incorporating orthopaedic care into school sports benefited athletes?
“For more than 30 years, I have been involved in sports medicine. This has included youth sports, as well as high school and college athletics. Orthopaedic coverage on playing fields is very important. As a former athlete, I understand that if an injury occurs, immediate attention and treatment is beneficial and can reduce further complications. The benefit for the athlete is that the diagnosis and treatment of an injury starts immediately,” says Dr. Richards.
“I have been treating athletes for a few years now and have found that incorporating care into the schools through the partnership with athletic trainers offers student-athletes timely and valuable advice, which helps them maximize their success. Having an open dialogue between athletic trainers and the orthopaedic team allows patients to be seen by the right person quickly, have their care initiated, and leads to faster return to play with prevention of injuries in the future,” says Dr. Wool.
“I have been in my position as team physician for Shippensburg University for four years. We have a great sports medicine team including athletic trainers who are very knowledgeable and know the student-athletes very well. One of our successes is the accessibility of our sports medicine team to ensure prompt diagnosis of an athlete’s injuries and provide coordinated care.” says Dr. Holzshu.
“I have been with UPMC as a sports medicine physician for three years. My experience on the sidelines, along with my colleagues, provides a real-time, inside view and assessment of an injury which improves communication with all involved as well as the care of the athlete. As a result, we can get them into the office quickly for evaluation, easily coordinate rehabilitation plans, and discuss return to play timelines,” says Dr. Patel.
The primary goal of sports medicine doctors is to diagnose, manage, and treat injuries. Various therapies may be incorporated into the treatment plan. Physical therapy plays a key role for athletes who have been sidelined by an injury. Sports medicine doctors collaborate with a physical therapist to develop a treatment plan that helps athletes restore function in balance, strength, flexibility, and speed, and work to return to pre-injury levels of fitness and performance.
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