Sports medicine Featured

7:31am EDT February 28, 2006

Injuries can occur both on and off the job, and employees who incur sports injuries will often have to deal with the effects of the injury when going back to work. With the growing practice of sports medicine, athletes and weekend warriors alike have even more options for finding proper medical care when a sports injury occurs.

Finding a sports medicine physician can be an important key for properly diagnosing and treating a sports injury, and receiving early and proper treatment can mean the difference between a quick and full recovery and a lifetime of lingering effects, says Dr. John L. Pinkowski, director of sports medicine and physical therapy at the Akron General Medical Center.

“Employers can play an important role in helping injured employees get back to work,” Pinkowski says. “By working with the injured employee and helping the employee not only receive proper treatment, but also identifying gradual return-to-work programs, employers can help minimize the impact the injury has on the employee and the workplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Pinkowski about the field of sports medicine, how sports injuries can impact the workplace and how to know when an injury requires medical attention.

What is sports medicine?
Sports medicine is a specialty of medicine that encompasses the medical care of athletes and in particular their sports-related injuries.

How can employers accommodate an employee with injuries?
Employees can be viewed as athletes in their job. The employee often has special skills or abilities at the workplace. During their daily work routine, an accident or injury to the musculoskeletal system may occur that requires medical attention. Just as we try to return the athlete back to his or her sport in a quick and safe fashion, we try to return the worker back to his or her job in a quick and safe fashion.

Employers can spend their time and effort trying to prevent injuries in the workplace, provide quick access to health care and cooperate with the health care provider in trying to return the working in a safe fashion. This may include gradual return-to-work programs, light duty or the use of protective devices such as braces.

Does insurance cover sports injuries?
Most health care insurance policies will cover activity-related injuries. I cannot recall an insurance company preventing a covered patient for care of a sports-related injury. If the athlete is employed in professional sports, the injury is often considered a workers’ compensation injury, along with its method of access to care.

How can sports injuries be prevented?
Proper conditioning and technique can prevent most injuries. Take downhill skiing as an example. Downhill skiers must be in excellent condition aerobically, and have excellent lower extremity muscle strength and muscle flexibility.

A pre-participation conditioning and training program to address these needs can prevent injuries. In addition, learning proper technique from instruction or classes has been shown to reduce sports injuries. It’s also important for athletes to pay attention to the condition of their sports equipment. Properly fitted equipment that’s in good working order has been shown to reduce injuries. These concepts apply to all sports.

How do you know when an injury is serious enough to seek medical attention?
This is not an easy question to answer, as every injury is different. Pain and swelling (are) obvious guides. The inability to use the joint or bear weight are other worrisome signs. Tenderness over the bone may be a sign of facture (break). If the joint feels unstable or if there is significant swelling or deformity, medical attention will be required.

If there is any question, it’s better to contact a physician for information and evaluation. Many injuries can be treated more effectively early in their appearance, and even some injuries treated late can have poor results.

Dr. John L. Pinkowski is the director of sports medicine and physical therapy at the Akron General Medical Center. He is also an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Northeast Ohio Universities College of Medicine and a partner of Northeast Ohio Orthopaedic Associates Inc. Reach him at (330) 344-1980 or at 224 W. Exchange Street, Suite 440, Akron, OH, 44302.