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The Role of Athletic Trainers
Thousands of students in the Blue Ridge region participating in a wide range of activities, from youth recreational leagues through college sports teams, benefit from the support of athletic trainers at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and Sentara RMH Medical Center. While collegiate and high school teams often have an orthopedic surgeon and athletic trainer on the sidelines for high-contact games, you can also find athletic trainers at practices for a wide range of high school sports. The trainers often oversee multiple practices and games, focusing on sports with the highest risk of injuries. “Athletic trainers provide care on the spot, first assessing an injury and then providing initial treatment,” explains Scott Powers, a certified athletic trainer, and the athletic trainer program coordinator at Sentara RMH. “After an athlete has seen an orthopedic physician and, if needed, had surgery, we also help the athlete rehabilitate so they can get back on the field.”
For athletes with more serious injuries, rehab may mean coming to a clinic, but athletic trainers try to make the process as convenient as possible. In less severe cases, they can guide students with a rehab program at school while their team is practicing.
Sentara RMH employs 13 full-time athletic trainers: four in the orthopedic clinic, six in high schools, and three in the James Madison University (JMU) recreational sports program. Powers has expanded the athletic training program during his six years in the position.
Peace of Mind for Parents
Recently, the Sentara RMH athletic trainer team helped coordinate an appointment for Zechariah Stuhlmiller, a 9th-grade varsity football player at Broadway High School in Rockingham County. “We were doing hitting drills, and I got hit high from behind,” recalls the freshman defensive back, known as “Z” by his friends and family. “My cleat got stuck in the ground, and my knee twisted as I came down. The coach called our athletic trainer to check on me right away.”
Knowing there’s an athletic trainer nearby is comforting to athletes’ parents. “It’s definitely given me peace of mind and made the process easier,” says Z’s dad, Jason Stuhlmiller, who has coached baseball at the high school and collegiate levels. “The athletic trainer got in touch with orthopedics, and we were able to get an appointment the next day.”
An orthopedic provider at Sentara RMH Orthopedics and Sports Medicine determined that Z had strained his medial collateral ligament. Z was able to rehab with the athletic trainer at school and get back on the field a couple weeks later.
JMU students can rely on the advice of Sentara RMH athletic trainers, who staff a full-service athletic training room at the university’s recreation center, which is open to all JMU students. “We see a lot of 18- and 19-year-olds making healthcare decisions for the first time,” Powers explains. “They need counseling and guidance. They need to know if they should see a doctor, and that’s what we do with our evaluations.”
JMU students can see the athletic trainers free of charge for an initial assessment. If indicated, the athletic trainer will recommend that the student seek follow-up care with a physician. Students can also return and rehab for free. Powers recalls a case in which a student took a fall while skateboarding. When the student came in to get checked for a concussion, he reported experiencing considerable neck pain. The athletic trainer on duty referred him to Sentara RMH, and X-rays revealed two cervical fractures. In such cases, having an athletic trainer on hand can help students get the treatment they need more quickly and conveniently, potentially helping them avoid more serious injury.