To injured athletes, rehabilitation once meant resting the injury until it no longer hurt, then simply returning the patient to competition.
That was then.
After three decades of advancing technology, rehabilitation techniques and prevention methods, athletes are healthier and less exposed to injuries.
Arnold Bell, professor of physical therapy, said he appreciates today’s equipment because it is more injury specific.
Bell said sophisticated machines, some even available with computerized printouts, make it easier to monitor a patient’s progress.
“The athlete is not ready to go back until they’re physically fit for the sport,” Bell said.
Physical fitness is now being incorporated as a part of the rehabilitation process, not just after completion.
FAMU Head Athletic Trainer Akima Dina said that in addition to the presence of women in the field of sports medicine, the size of athletes has been the most dramatic change.
“Athletes are much bigger, Dina said. “They now have supplements, vitamins, minerals, more advanced training systems and most importantly better prevention”.
Because greater performance capabilities can be expected from athletes the process of rehabilitation has had to be redirected to all the components involved with an athletes position and sport.
Thirty years ago, an anterior cruciate ligament injury meant open surgery, a cast for several months and a long period of inactivity.
However, with today’s advancements ACL repair is performed microscopically, some patients may leave the hospital the same day and – in the case of minor injuries – physical activity may begin right away.
Kimberly Wilkins, an assistant athletic trainer, believes that despite the advances in surgical procedures, ACL injuries are the most difficult to recover from.
“In most instances other ligaments and cartilage maybe torn along with the ACL which could cause for six months to a year for rehabilitation,” Wilkins said.
Also available are braces, which can be made for almost all joints and even the shin.
In the area of prevention, year- round fitness training, rather than simply seasonal practice, is becoming more routine, as a way to improve techniques and skills.
Despite the advancement, some athletes don’t seem to understand the benefits of rehabilitation.
Kevin Hicks,19, a freshman from Miami, suffered with shin splints early in his track career. He chose to deal with the pain like many other athletes.
“I tolerate it for the team,” Hicks said.
Dina said athletes must think of the challenges that face them by ignoring their injury.
Still, team trainer and orthopedic specialist alike hope modern advancements will make career-ending injuries a thing of the past.
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