closing the gap in concussive injury care

Athletic Trainer Role Blog

Athletic trainers: who are we and what do we do?

- Sara Altman

 So, you’re wondering what an athletic trainer is and what we do? You’re not alone. I get this question all the time. You know when you’re watching sports, and someone gets hurt? I’m the person in khakis with a fanny pack who runs onto the field to assess the situation. In this moment, I am evaluating the injury, making a determination if they can safely continue playing, or deciding if they need to be pulled from the game for their safety. In the case of suspected concussion, I first evaluate level of consciousness. How alert are they to person, place and time? Then I evaluate their symptoms. Are they immediately dizzy or off balance? Do they have a headache or nausea? Are there any red flags, like vomiting, that necessitate emergency medical care? If they need to be pulled from play, we implement the concussion protocol for their league. This involves evaluation by a medical doctor and appropriate therapies for safe return to participation in practices and games.

At Colorado Concussion Clinic, I have a unique role as an athletic trainer where I use my screening skills and translate them into an appropriate plan of care for each patient. I am involved with the initial screening with the physician, performing an assessment of patient’s balance, vestibular, and oculomotor function. Based on the results of this screening, I facilitate referrals to the appropriate therapies. For patients who are referred to physical therapy, I am involved in the evaluation and treatment of their given symptoms. One of the most important tests I do is the Buffalo Concussion Treadmill Test. This helps to determine how much exercise is recommended for an individual based on their response to exercise. Frequently following a concussion, a patient’s heart rate and blood pressure regulation is impaired which can translate into poor tolerance of exercise. The results of the BCTT guide us in getting a patient safely back to exercise without symptom exacerbation. I also assist in the treatment of balance issues, vestibular symptoms such as dizziness, and visual dysfunction. I work closely with the physical therapists in carrying out the treatment plans for our patients.

My role as an athletic trainer in concussion management is unique given my work with athletes from practices, to their games, and throughout the continuum of concussion rehab. Given that I see patients in “real life” situations (ie practices and games), I may pick up on areas of breakdown where a patient may require further rehab prior to safe return to their sport. My sideline role is an integral part of the team, and is crucial in the management of a concussed athlete safely returning to their sport.