By Gene Stanley/Correspondent
Three of Northeast Alabama’s leading orthopedists gathered at the Gadsden City High School auditorium on July 25 to discuss sports injuries and the prevention thereof.
Dr. Chris Kelley and Dr. Butch Douthit, both of Northeast Orthopedics, were joined by Dr. William Haller of Gadsden Orthopedics for a board discussion that also included former Jacksonville State University football coach Jack Crowe, JSU trainer Eric Johnson and David Ellis, head of physical therapy at Gadsden Regional Medical Center.
Crowe is now the president of Strategic Solutions LLC, a personal services and consulting company.
“These doctors just gave one of the best, most well-informed discussions of injuries I’ve ever heard,” Crowe said in his closing remarks. “They don’t get better than these guys.”
The forum was set up for each doctor to take a turn at presenting one sports injury topic and the methods to prevent them. The forum was followed by a question-and-answer session from the audience, after which the entire panel had the opportunity to make comments or ask questions.
The forum was sponsored by Gadsden Regional Medical Center and Jacksonville State University.
“There’s a lot of talk these days about concussions,” Haller said. “And there are still a lot of unknowns about them. A lot of concussions go undiagnosed.”
Haller said that it is thought there are over 200,000 concussions per year, with the highest concentration being in youth sports.
Football is the top sport for concussions, with soccer at No. 2. Basketball and wrestling are the other top sports.
There are still a lot of unknowns about concussions, according to Haller. But one thing that is known is that they are more prominent in younger athletes.
While the symptoms of concussions are generally short-lived (7-10 days), repeated concussions are very dangerous.
One standard that Haller suggested was that three concussions suffered in a year’s time is too many. But any repeats of concussions can be dangerous. Haller also stressed that concussions aren’t confined to hitting one’s head against something. A big jolt, or anything that is hard enough to move your brain inside your skull, can cause a concussion, which basically is a bruise on the brain. Symptoms include blurred vision, loss of balance, loss of consciousness, headaches, confusion and nausea. Dementia and depression are two of the long-term symptoms.
Haller noted that symptoms of a concussion may not show up immediately.
Rest is the best known treatment for a concussion and sometimes even mental rest can be required.
“Work back into things in steps if you’re treated for a concussion,” Haller advised. “Don’t wait until the seventh day, then jump right back into sports.”
Asked if the newer and supposedly better helmets made an impact in concussion statistics, Dr. Haller said that he had noticed no difference.
“Maybe the best thing would be to go back to leather helmets,” Crowe said. “That would get rid of a lot of the head tackling and kids would go back to shoulder-first tackling.”
Anyone – especially youth – who suffers a concussion, no matter how minor, needs to be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Heat strokes occur when the body temperature reaches 105 degrees. The body cannot cool itself when temperatures reach this type of numbers. If this extreme rise in temperature occurs – or even comes close to occurring – an ice bath is recommended. If that is not possible, placing an ice pack on the back of the neck is the next best thing.
Dr. Kelley said that heat is one of the three leading causes of death in athletes.
“It’s the top killer during the summer,” he said. “When the core body temperature rises, your sweat is supposed to cool it. But sweat doesn’t work as well when the heat and humidity are both high.”
Excessive thirst, weakness, headaches, dizziness and chills are some symptoms of heat illness. Less than normal or dark urine are two other symptoms to look for.
Heat illness can lead to difficulty in breathing, tingling sensations, nausea, seizures and death.
Fluid replenishment is the best first aid for any heat-related illness, Kelley said, and not just water. He noted that sports drinks help supply electrolytes, which are diminished with sweating.
Johnson said that cutting sports drinks with water and adding a touch of sugar makes them not only more palatable but better for heat illness.
It is also advised to hydrate before and during exercise. Light clothing is also advised for the prevention of overheating, especially during hot weather.
“One thing to not do is going from zero to 60 in activities,” he said. “Also, hydrate before, during and after activity. Weight is also an indicator. If there’s a big weight loss, you’re losing too much water.”
Crowe said that at JSU, football players are weighed before and after practice. When the athlete is weighed again the next day, if there’s more than a three-percent difference, he doesn’t practice.
“In ages 5-14, over 40 percent of injuries treated by hospitals are caused by overwork,” Dr. Douthit said. “And 50 percent of all sports injuries are thought to be caused by it. But 60 percent of those type injuries can be prevented by use of common sense.”
Douthit said that many times, when a young athlete is “pigeon-holed” into one sport played year-round, overuse injuries occur because the youngsters are using the same muscles over and over.
“A lot of times, parents try to place their kids in one sport for the sake of trying to earn a scholarship,” Douthit said. “If you allow your youngster to participate in more than one sport, the problem isn’t as bad.”
But it’s not just the one-sport, year-round athletes who get in trouble. Any athlete who plays any sports year-round is susceptible to overuse injuries.
Douthit noted that a good medical history and physical exams usually turn up these problems.
“It’s really good if the parents can get the history forms early and put a bit of time into them,” he said. “Too many times, the kid keeps them and just cruises through them a half hour before their exam. They don’t remember if they had problems at age 2 that might be significant.”
Responsibility and common sense were two of the themes that Douthit continued to refer back to, saying these two things make a world of difference in overuse injuries.
As for the saying of “No pain, no gain,” Douthit said that does not apply to youngsters.
Douthit said that one rule of thumb you can use for weekly activity is age. If a child is six years old, he should get no more than six hours of work per week.
But every panel member agreed that no child under the age of 14 or so should participate in contact sports.
“It’s not an iron-clad rule or anything,” Douthit said. “But more of maturity level. Some 12-year-olds are more mature than some 15-year-olds.”
A majority of overuse injuries occur during training and when someone returns to an activity after a layoff period.
Douthit concluded by saying that cheering is one of the biggest overuse activities.
For more information on any sports injuries, visit www.stopsportsinjuries.org.