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As I was sitting in the stands a recent high school football game, I realized how much confusion, concern and anxiety spreads through the parents when their child is injured on the field. Since I have been on both sides (serving as a team physician as well as having a son on the field who suffered an injury), I wanted to try to alleviate some of these concerns. First of all, who runs out onto the field when a player is injured? The first person on the field is always the athletic trainer. At varsity football games, each team brings their own trainer, while in many other sports or at the Junior Varsity level, the home team will usually provide the trainer. During all varsity football games, a team doctor will be present. If the injury is severe enough, the trainer will ask a team doctor to come onto the field. Finally, there is an ambulance crew present, but they only come onto the field if the trainer and doctor request them.
The good news is that the chance of severe injuries remain rare, even in a contact sports. The most common cause of a player not getting up right away is muscle cramping. This occurs most often during hot weather, when many players get dehydrated. Other common injuries include ankle sprains, deep contusions, muscle strains and in some cases ACL tears. One of the more serious injuries, and a hot button topic today, is concussions. A concussion is always related to some sort of head contact (helmet to helmet, player to player, player to ground, etc.). However, every head contact does not cause a concussion. It is up to the medical staff to make this diagnosis. If a concussion diagnosis is made, there is no option, NO SAME DAY RETURN TO PLAY is possible.
Serious injuries, although rare, may occur. These include cervical spine injuries, fractures and dislocations. The medical staff on site is well versed on the field treatment of these injuries, immobilization of the injury and rapid transport to a hospital for definitive treatment.
One of the most important jobs of the team trainer and doctor is to properly communicate with the parents of the injured player. As a team doctor, I make a specific point to find the player’s mom or dad after a player is injured. We talk about the severity of the injury, the plan to treat injury, and how long to expect the player to be out of play. Hopefully, through proper communication, I can help to alleviate those anxious moments any family member feels, when their loved one is injured on an athletic field.