Published in Moms & Dads Today magazine, September/October 2016
The Athlete’s Advocate: A Team Approach to Sports Medicine at St.
“Mom, dad, I want to play hockey!” Many parents hear sentences
similar to this whether the sport in question is soccer, football, or
one of the other numerous athletic activities available for children.
Youth sports, while providing great life lessons, can result in injury.
Dr. John Watkins, a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon with St. Luke’s
Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, gives advice on how to keep young athletes
safe and explains how St. Luke’s team of sports medicine physicians,
physician assistants and athletic trainers can help if an injury occurs.
“The St. Luke’s sports medicine team truly acts as the athlete’s
advocate,” explains Dr. Watkins. “It doesn’t matter
if there is a big game tomorrow and the team needs the athlete competing—we
put the safety of the athlete first, every time.”
Preventing sports-related injuries should always be the goal. “Overall
conditioning is important—even in the off season,” Dr. Watkins
explains. Through a balanced diet, stretching, core strengthening and
balance exercises, young athletes not only perform better but also get
injured less. “It’s important to warm up before playing a
sport, cool down after, and stay hydrated throughout,” Dr. Watkins stresses.
St. Luke’s athletic trainers often spend time in the community leading
off-season education on the benefits of overall conditioning and healthy
training regimens. Warm ups and cool downs help prepare muscles for exercise
and maintain flexibility after. Especially if your child participates
in endurance sports, proper nutrition plays an important role in maintaining
bone strength, hormone levels and more.
Types of sports-related injuries vary by age of the child and by the sport
they are playing. In younger children, overuse injuries affecting soft
tissue and growth plates are most common. “Younger children typically
need less aggressive treatments and less time to heal,” says Dr.
Watkins. “We joke that young kids are mostly cartilage because of
their tendency to rebound more quickly than high school athletes and adults.”
Significant injuries such as shoulder separation, injuries to the anterior
cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee, concussions and fractures are more
common in high school athletes than younger children. If you think that
your child might have a sports-related injury, there are some symptoms
you can look for. Any injury that causes numbness, tingling, altered feeling,
persistent swelling after icing and ibuprofen, weakness or restricted
motion should be evaluated by a professional. “Neck and back injuries
need to be evaluated more rapidly,” adds Dr. Watkins. “They
can appear minor even if they are serious.”
If you are worried that your child sustained a head injury, look for sensitivity
to light, headaches, nausea, vomiting, memory loss or unusual pupil dilation.
“In recent years, greater attention has been given to closed head
injuries, like concussions, in sports,” says Dr. Watkins. Thanks
to health campaigns and efforts made by professional sports leagues and
lawmakers, a higher number of athletes with concussions are getting the
medical attention they need. Dr. Watkins explains, “More people
are learning signs of concussions and ways to avoid them, which is a great
improvement for young athletes.”
To prevent possible aggravation of any injury and for parents’ peace
of mind, Dr. Watkins encourages parents who aren’t sure how severe
their child’s injury is to bring their child in. “St. Luke’s
uses a team approach to sports medicine,” explains Dr. Watkins.
Athletic trainers are the first line of defense on the field if your child
is injured while playing a sport, and they work in-office at St. Luke’s
as well. “Athletic trainers, physician assistants and doctors follow
three steps: ‘evaluation, treatment, and rehab.’” Physicians
and physician assistants often begin the evaluation steps. Physicians
then complete the evaluation, determine treatment options and perform
surgeries or other more aggressive treatments. Athletic trainers educate
patients on the steps of rehabilitation and physical therapy exercises
during their visit. If needed, patients are then referred to outpatient rehab.
As a father of two young athletes, Dr. Watkins is involved in the community
as a parent, a physician and a spectator. “Children and teens can
learn a lot through athletics,” says Dr. Watkins. “Even if
they don’t realize it at the time, they are learning how to work
with a team, what it means to have a strong work ethic, and even how to
respond constructively to adversity. The benefits of playing sports far
outweigh the risk of injury.”
BELOW: Dr. John Watkins, St. Luke's orthopedic surgeon, drops the ceremonial
puck for the 2016 High School All Star Hockey Game