Each year, more than seven million high school students participate in interscholastic athletics in the US, and approximately 715,000 sport-related and recreation-related injuries occur in school settings. As part of an ongoing effort to reduce the number of athletic injuries, today at its 59TH annual meeting and clinical symposia in St. Louis, the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) released an inter-association task force summary statement with 11 strategies for the prevention and treatment of injury and illness as they relate to athletic participation by secondary school-aged individuals.


The statement was released today in advance of its formal publication in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, NATAs scientific publication. An electronic version of the complete summary statement is available at http://www.nata.org/jat/Valovich_final_proofs.pdf.


Appropriate medical care of athletes involves more than just basic emergency care during sporting events, said Jon Almquist, VATL, ATC, chair of the task force and statement lead author. A certified athletic trainer, Almquist serves as athletic training program administrator for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. To reduce injuries, organizations sponsoring athletic programs need to establish an athletic health care team that functions to ensure appropriate medical care is provided for all participants; this can go a long way in preventing minor injuries from becoming more significant time loss injuries.


Summary Statement Strategies

The summary statement lists 11 potential strategies for the prevention and immediate treatment of injury and illness as they relate to athletic participation by secondary school-age individuals, as follows:


1. Develop and implement a comprehensive athletic health care administrative system

Organizations sponsoring athletic programs for secondary school-aged individuals should establish a comprehensive athletic health care team (AHCT) that ensures appropriate medical care is provided for all participants. The AHCT should coordinate the various aspects of the athletes health in a coherent, effective and professional manner.


2. Determine the individuals readiness to participate

A pre-participation physical examination (PPE) is used to identify individuals who may be at risk for the development of injuries related to their activity and those who may be at risk for sudden death due to an underlying medical problem.


3. Promote safe and appropriate practice, competition and treatment facilities

Provide a safe environment for all athletes, including keeping the premises in safe repair, inspecting the premises for obvious and hidden hazards, removing the hazards if possible or warning of their presence.


4. Advise on the selection, fit, function and maintenance of athletic equipment

Provide access to appropriate equipment that is properly fit in accordance with manufacturer recommendations and maintained by qualified personnel.


5. Develop and implement a comprehensive emergency action plan

An emergency action plan (EAP) is essential to ensure that all incidents are responded to in an appropriate manner and that the roles of the AHCT members are well defined and communicated in advance.


6. Establish protocols regarding environmental conditions

It is crucial that organizations responsible for athletic events develop policies and protocols to address the safety of play in hazardous environmental conditions.


7. Provide for on-site recognition, evaluation and immediate treatment of injury and illness, with appropriate referrals

Having a qualified individual on site and ready to care for the ill or injured person is critical to the safety of the participants and for decision making regarding when an athlete can safely return to play.


8. Facilitate rehabilitation and reconditioning

The process of rehabilitation and reconditioning is fundamental for the safe return of injured athletes to their prior level of competition as quickly as possible and prevention of further injuries.


9. Provide for psychosocial consultation and referral

The AHCT should be able to identify potential psychosocial pathologies (e.g., disordered eating) frequently associated with secondary school-aged athletes and refer them for appropriate diagnosis and management.


10. Provide scientifically sound nutritional counseling and education

It is essential that valid and understandable information regarding nutrition be provided to secondary school-aged athletes, parents and coaches. Even more essential is the ability to refer athletes to appropriate medical personnel for treatment when necessary.


11. Develop injury and illness prevention strategies

A public health framework can be used to develop effective interventions to reduce the affliction of injuries and illnesses to these young persons.


Dawn Comstock, PhD, assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, who administers a national sports injury surveillance study which annually captures injury data on nine high school sports (boys' football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, baseball and girls' soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball) discussed the burden of injuries experienced by these young athletes. "In just the past two academic years, an estimated 2.9 million injuries were sustained by athletes participating in the sports covered by my surveillance study. While sports injuries can never be entirely eliminated, these recommendations create a critical call to action to ensure young athletes are kept as safe as possible."


While emergency medical care and event coverage are critical, appropriate medical care also includes ongoing daily athletic health care activities, said Tamara C. Valovich McLeod, PhD, ATC, associate professor of athletic training at the Arizona School of Health Sciences, A.T. Still University and a co-author of the statement. The athletic health care team should include certified athletic trainers, team physicians, school nurses and other health care professionals, working in consultation with administrators, coaches, parents and participants.


Much as it often takes a team effort to succeed at sports, it takes a team to provide the safest possible environment for those sports, said statement co-author and task force participant Keith J. Loud, MD, MSc, FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics at Childrens Hospital Medical Center of Akron, Ohio. Our summary statement underscores the importance of proper youth sport injury prevention and treatment to reduce onset of chronic conditions that can sideline an athlete in a variety of ways throughout life.


Peak athletic performance requires mastering physical excellence one step at a time, said Chris Long, defensive end for the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League and the second all-around 2008 draft pick. Athletes of all ages must always listen to their bodies and properly condition them to perform at their physical best from youth sports activities to elite levels of competition.


In addition to NATA, the task force is comprised of 16 other groups, including such organizations as the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Emergency Medical Services, National Association of School Nurses, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Federation of State High School Associations, National Safety Council and the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. For more information, please visit www.nata.org.


Athletic trainers are unique health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession. NATA advocates for equal access to athletic trainers for patients and clients of all ages and supports H.R. 1846. Only 42% of high schools have access to athletic trainers. NATA members adhere to a code of ethics. For more information, visit www.nata.org.