More Than Surgery And Rehabilitation

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Sep 4, 2013

This is the third and final part in a series of stories related to the Health and Sports Performance Division of Ole Miss Athletics.

Part 1: New Facility, Staffing For Ole Miss Athletics Nutrition

Part 2: Sports Psychology Provides Mental Edge For Student-Athletes

By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com

OXFORD, Miss. — When you think of athletic training or sports, you always think of an athlete having surgery, or the rehabilitation that follows, or taping wrists and ankles before a practice or workout.

In summary, athletic trainers are involved in every phase of health and sports performance and are responsible for the care and prevention of athletic injuries.

“A lot of times the athlete ends up spending more time with the athletic trainer than anyone else on campus because we are the ones who are there before they do any workout or practice, and we’re there afterwards,” said Heather Landry Shirley, Senior Athletic Trainer.

“The majority of the time, especially if they are having an injury that needs to be taken care of, they're spending that time with us because we're trying to get them better and get them back to playing without any problems.”

And it includes a lot of people, from the sports nutritionist, to the sports psychologist, to the strength and conditioning staff, to the physical therapist, to the massage therapist.

The biggest thing, head football athletic trainer Pat Jernigan said, is prevention, which includes body maintenance with hot and cold tubs, and the exercise program, which is more of the strength and conditioning. If an injury occurs, however, there’s a procedure to follow, whether it’s non-surgical or surgical.

“You think about all the rehab we do,” he said. “A lot more is accomplished through prevention that you don't even hear about injuries because of the things we do. Now, when you talk about surgeries, that takes on its own animal.”

“If someone gets injured, the biggest thing we have to do is make the correct diagnosis. That involves evaluating the student-athlete. Sometimes it's a physician, sometimes it's a diagnostic test, like an X-Ray or an MRI. When we gather all of that information, that's when we decide if it's non-surgical or surgical.

“If it's non-surgical, then we set up a rehab program for them to get back to be able to play,” Jernigan said. “If it's surgical, then the guy has to have a surgery, and then there's a rehab protocol we follow. We use Michael Meurrier (Physical Therapist). He's a big part of that, as well.”

One of the diagnostic tests used is the IMPACT test, which is part of the testing used when an athlete shows any symptoms or signs of a concussion.

“Every single athlete that comes in here, as part of the pre-participation physical exam, everybody has baseline screening for cognitive and motor skills,” said Shannon Singletary, Senior Associate A.D. for Health and Sports Performance.

“We do balance testing. And we do cognitive testing, both on and off the computer. They do IMPACT testing, which is on a computer, and it tests hand-eye coordination, cerebral input and memory, among other things.

“On the front end, we give all our athletes an education sheet with the symptoms of concussions. We also post them in their locker rooms. If you have any of these, you must report these symptoms to the athletic trainer. Once those symptoms are reported, then we can go back and test them again on those tests and compare them to their baselines. No athletes who have concussion symptoms during a game are allowed to go back into the game until we feel 100 percent that those symptoms have been resolved, and there has been a period of healing.”

As noted above, physical therapy and massage therapy are two additional tools for the athletic trainers to use in an athlete’s rehabilitation and recovery, respectively.

Michael Muerrier, the division’s physical therapist, provides one-on-one expert rehabilitation for every athlete who has had surgery, and also some cases that don’t require surgery, such as lower back and neck injuries.

“The first couple of months, regardless of the sport, we're going to be working on the same main things. The initial goals are to restore range of motion, control their pain and swelling, reestablish neuromuscular control, and regain a certain level of strength of the surrounding musculature.

“Once these goals are met then the athlete can be transitioned into a more functional type of rehabilitation with their athletic trainer for their respective sport.”

In the preseason, the division’s massage therapist Sharon King, works with individual teams, then during the season, athletic trainers will send her individual athletes who are in pain, dealing with overuse and maybe even looking at surgery. Where an athlete is suffering from pain or injury, King does neuromuscular therapy focused on the specific area.

“Neuromuscular therapy is real repetitive,” King said. “It's trying to retrain those muscles with the brain, where it's going to work the way it's supposed to. And it can get pretty painful because I may even go in on the most painful spot and keep static pressure until I feel it ease.”

When dealing with injuries, Jernigan said the biggest thing is players have to trust their athletic trainer, so they can treat them and get them better. An athletic trainer’s communication with the coaches regarding an injury is also extremely important.

“We are going to push the envelope on some things,” he said. “We're going to be smart but aggressive. You can't put someone out there who can't protect themselves. These players know what is demanded of them. Most of them want to compete. They want to practice. They have a lot of heart. They don't want to sit out. They have to trust that I'm not going to put them in a situation that will put them in danger. That’s a responsibility I have to take seriously.

“Coaching-wise, I have to tell them why a guy is out, and how long they are going to miss. You learn projected time for guys to miss from experience. No coach wants people to miss practices or games, but sometimes they do, and they understand that. My job is to give them the information so they realize why, and what they have to do to prepare.”

With three different training areas and different staffs for the respective teams, there remains an emphasis of keeping things equal, in the sense of facility type and the equipment in the respective facilities, so the athletes are accessible to what will get them better faster.

“We try to have it so that no matter what sport they are playing, the athletes have the things that they need to help prepare them for workouts or practice, and also to get them better when they have an injury,” Shirley said.

“We try to keep up with what's current and research-based equipment, in the sense of knowing that there is an actual benefit for its use, and not just trying to buy the fads,” Shirley said. “We want to make sure that we are purchasing things that have an extended use, in the sense of that it's something that has been proven to be beneficial and something that will continue to beneficial for an extended amount of time.”

Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller

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