Athletic Trainers Work to Keep Kids Healthy

Athletic trainers from the Regional West Medical Center-Rehab Center are familiar faces to student-athletes in the area.

James Buck, ATC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, and Donna Stuart, ATC, work with young people to help them recover from injuries, but more importantly, to prevent injury from happening in the first place.

While Buck and Stuart work primarily with high school students, Buck said injury prevention and proper training begins at an early age. He said kids can begin training when they show an interest in a sport by simply using body weight exercises rather than lifting and other types of training that adults or high school athletes might use.

“Learning correct skill and technique early on is important,” Buck said. “If you don’t have that foundation, you’re not going to do well. If you don’t have the right foundation and the right techniques, you’re going to get hurt in the long run, and it will affect how you progress through your skill level.”

Being active is important in building bone density and strength in kids. However, Stuart said to prevent possible compression and damage, weightlifting should be put off until the child’s growth plates close – generally in middle school or early high school.

“At that point, I tell people to start really light,” Stuart said. “If you have issues, back off. If you don’t, move forward. But I think activity for kids at a young age is good for them.”

Proper training should come from experienced coaches, Buck said. The impact of coaches cannot be understated, Stuart added.

“Other than maybe the kids themselves or their parents, the coach is the number one person responsible for helping your kids stay healthy,” she said.

When a young person sustains an injury, Buck said it’s important to be monitored and cautious about putting him or her back on the field or court too early. The body needs a break to recover and snap the pain-injury cycle.

“It seems like kids are getting overloaded,” Buck said. “They’re being put on traveling teams for this or traveling teams for that, and they never have a break. Their bodies need to have breaks. There needs to be rest periods for their bodies to recover and recuperate.”

In any sport and at any time of the year, hydration is an important part of the program for the trainers. Sports drinks are encouraged because they replace the electrolytes lost during exercise. Water itself is not enough.

“That’s the biggest misunderstanding athletes have,” Buck said. “They wonder why they’re having cramps if they’re drinking plenty of water. You can drink all the water you want, but it doesn’t have any of the calcium, potassium, or other electrolytes your body needs for muscles to continue to function.”

Parents can be instrumental in addressing a young person who is injured but hasn’t said anything.

“I tell parents that they have a gut instinct,” Stuart said. “You are the mom or the dad. If you think something is wrong and your kid isn’t acting right, whether it’s their behavior or whatever it is, get them checked out. Don’t wait to see if it lasts long. Use your gut instinct.”

Any student-athlete in the region can be checked out by one of the athletic trainers simply by coming to the Rehab Center at 7 a.m. on weekdays.

“We’ll triage any athlete who comes in,” Stuart said. “Parents, come in if you have any question about whether or not your child should see a doctor or what kind of treatment they should have for an injury.”