Sean Burfeind, MS, LAT, ATC, OPA-C, is a residency-trained, board-certified and licensed athletic trainer. He serves as a clinical athletic trainer at Inova Sports Medicine.
If you’re a parent to a youth athlete, you’ve probably crossed paths with an athletic trainer. Yet you might still be wondering: What exactly does an athletic trainer do? It’s a question I get a lot.
There’s a lot of misinformation about how athletic trainers fit into sports medicine. In part, that’s because we can play a variety of roles. As an athletic trainer with the United States Soccer Federation, for example, I travel overseas with their youth national teams to provide medical care during international tournaments. As a clinical athletic trainer at Inova Sports Medicine, I care for patients in the office as they recover from athletic injuries.
But whether we’re on the sidelines or in the clinic, my fellow athletic trainers and I are focused on keeping players and athletes of all ages healthy and active.
Treating Youth Athletes
Athletic trainers have been a part of pro sports for a long time. In the last decade or so, more and more youth sports teams and recreational leagues have started to add athletic trainers to their staffs. That’s encouraging, because athletic trainers fill an important role in helping young athletes prevent and recover from injuries.
So back to that earlier question: What does an athletic trainer actually do?
- Treat injuries when they happen. Athletic trainers tend to acute injuries that occur during games or practices, work to assess the problem and determine the best course of action. Does this injury need an ER visit? Or is this a minor injury that can be followed up on by an orthopedic physician in the days to come?
- Manage concussions. Athletic trainers are skilled in the assessment, diagnosis and management of concussions when they occur. That’s critical, since playing through a concussion can lengthen recovery time and increase the risk of serious problems.
- Partner with specialists. Clinical athletic trainers often work alongside orthopedic surgeons or other specialists. In my role at Inova Sports Medicine, I work side-by-side with sports medicine surgeons to evaluate patients, review treatment options and assist in the operating room.
- Coordinate care. Athletic trainers work closely with coaches, physical therapists, team physicians and other medical specialists. We help players (and their parents) understand the injury, move forward with treatment and eventually get back on the field.
A Team Sport
Young athletes might only see a sports medicine doctor when they’ve suffered an injury. But athletic trainers often get to know their players well over a season. We can draw on that relationship to help them manage injuries and reach their goals.
I recently worked with a high school soccer player who required surgery for a knee injury. She was a goalkeeper who hoped to play for a Division I collegiate program. I worked with her before the operation to help her understand what her recovery timeline would look like.
On the day of her surgery I became a familiar face in the OR and assisted with the operation. After the surgery, I collaborated closely with her physical therapist and performance specialists at EXOS, Inova’s performance training and nutrition service. Together we helped her get back on the field. And when she left to play college soccer this past fall, I reached out to her new team athletic trainers to make sure they had all the information they needed to help her continue to excel.
Sports medicine is a team sport, and athletic trainers are a key part of that team. If your young athlete experiences an injury, Inova’s sports medicine team can help. Learn more about the personalized, comprehensive care at Inova Sports Medicine.