Finding the Right Health Care Professional for Youth Injury Care and Prevention
It is a near certainty that at some point in a young athletes’ career, they are going to need to seek the services of a health care professional. This can be due to a variety of factors, but usually, it is for the treatment of an acute or chronic injury. If you have been through this process, I’m sure you realize the variety of diagnosis and intervention strategies provided by an array of professionals. It can get confusing. Between pediatricians, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, coaches, and personal trainers, everyone has an opinion based on their experience. How then, do we know who to listen to? In this article, I hope to shed light on how to pick the most effective health care professional for your young athlete’s needs.
“Scope of Practice” is a very important term in regards to how a health care professional can both proficiently and legally treat or diagnose an injury. If a young athlete has an acute or chronic injury, a simple way to narrow down your intervention strategy is to look at health care professionals’ scope of practice. While massage therapists, coaches, and personal trainers can offer valid suggestions and opinions, they have no legal protection in regards to diagnosing and treating injuries. These professionals function most effectively in regards to injury prevention and performance improvement. Employ these professionals early on in an athletes career and they will significantly decrease the likelihood of both chronic and acute injuries. With proper communication, they can also play a significant role in the rehabilitation process when following guidelines set by a licensed rehabilitation specialist. Medical doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors are permitted by law to diagnose and treat injuries. If your child has in injury and you want a true diagnosis, you need to see one of these professionals. Not all are created the equal, however.
Once you have determined your child’s needs and the desired scope of practice, you must evaluate the nature of the injury, and each professional’s proficiency. Medical doctors such as pediatricians and general practitioners generally deal with systemic issues; sickness, infection, and general health problems. Orthopedic surgeons and other specialists deal with structural issues. If your child has general health issues such as asthma, heart conditions, or pathological developmental problems, medical doctors are necessary. Medical doctors are also essential for extreme acute trauma like head and neck injuries or broken bones. Chiropractors are specialists in the neck and spine. Problems involving either should be directed towards a chiropractor. Physical therapists act to restore physical function. Their primary role is to assess injury and rehabilitate physical dysfunction to pre-injury levels.
Every health care professional plays a valuable role depending on the type and severity of injury. For the most common acute and chronic injuries that I see in youth, I generally recommend physical therapy as the first choice. Why? Assessing and rehabilitating injury is their job description! It’s all they do. You will generally see the fastest and most effective results from a physical therapy program for the most common youth sports injuries. I have spoken with many parents in regards to their children’s injuries. They dabble with a little of this, a little of that, some special cream, a cool machine, their uncles’ home remedy, 8 months later the injury is still there. Quit messing around. Get to a professional immediately and get the problem taken care of. Little problems turn into big problems when not treated.
Regardless of the professional you decide to use, here are some guidelines that will ensure that you have chosen the right one.
The professional should perform an in-depth movement-based evaluation prior to diagnosis. A “canned” diagnosis leads to a “canned” rehab program that may not be beneficial to the individuals’ needs. The professional should provide a detailed plan of attack. Be wary of the “rest and take anti-inflammatories” suggestion. Keeping an injury completely immobile is very rarely effective, particularly with chronic injuries. While you may need to rest one movement pattern, you probably need to strengthen another.
The professional should be affiliated with other such professionals. An injury process may involve an orthopedic surgeon to repair damage, a physical therapist to return function, and a personal trainer to improve performance and maintain proper movement patterns to prevent future injury. The more communication the professionals have between one another, the better it is for the patient. This integration should be discussed at the onset of a program.
Does the professional you are going to work with work with other youngsters in an injury rehab environment? Do they understand the demands and expectations of athletics? What is their experience with athletic injuries? Experience with this population is one of the most important factors aside from scope of practice when choosing the proper health care professional.
Every individual is different. Individual movement patterns must be addressed in the rehabilitation process. Your professional should work directly with you. They shouldn’t merely hand you a worksheet of things to do and walk off.
Be wary of any health care professional who prescribes a concerning amount external cost items such as supplements, orthodics, or other items the company sells at the onset of a program. Usually a true need arises for these items as a program progresses. I advocate supplements, orthodics, and other therapeutic items, but they should be prescribed like anything else, when truly needed.
Hopefully the above information helps you narrow down your approach to seeking a proper health care professional. Prevention is the best intervention. A highly qualified personal trainer or massage therapist that meets the above criteria is a great choice for a preventative strategy. Regardless of the health care professional you chose, remember, you have a choice. Ask questions, discuss expectations, and constantly assess the services! Keep are kids injury free so they can grow up to be happy, healthy, pain-free adults!
Check out: www.fitnessquest10.com
Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. In addition to coaching, Brett currently authors for a variety of publications, produces DVD’s on fitness and athletic performance and presents around the world on topics in fitness, wellness, and sports performance.