Suzie Neumann, 23, of East Greenbush loves sports.
A softball player since she was 5 years old, Neumann injured her shoulder about five years ago. She went for physical therapy, but the aggravating pain persisted. Still, she put off going to see a doctor.
“I didn’t want to stop playing,” said Neumann, who pitches in a mixed league twice a week. “Sometimes, it’s a shooting pain, but not all the time. Other times, it’s just a weakness.”
Injuries to high school, college and recreational athletes can be a significant disappointment for them, as well as for their coaches. The goal is to safely return the patient to activity as soon as possible, but it often means missing an important game or event.
When Neumann went to see Dr. Hamish Kerr, who practices sports medicine in Latham, he suspected something more serious than an overuse problem, and he advised her to stop playing until she had an MRI of her shoulder. She is awaiting results to see if she needs surgery or physical therapy.
“Dr. Kerr said if I stopped playing now, and we figure out what’s wrong and fix it, I can play next year and be fine, but I really wish I could play out the season,” said Neumann. “I only have three weeks left.”
Getting back into action
Sometimes, the athlete, like Neumann, wants to continue to play, while the physician thinks its’s not safe or reasonable to do so.
“Everyone enjoys sports and likes to remain active and that’s my goal,” said Kerr, an assistant professor of sports medicine at Albany Medical College. “We want to be able to return them to doing that as soon as possible.”
Sports-related injuries account for about 20 percent of visits to hospital emergency departments for injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Basketball and cycling account for most of the injuries, followed by football, baseball, gymnastics, cheerleading and playground injuries.
Kerr said he sees a number of patients with injuries from football because there is more contact involved.
“The injuries tend to be more traumatic in nature,” he said. “There is a higher incidence to the knees, ankles, shoulders and to the head. We’re very concerned about head injuries because of their severity and the possibility of concussion.”
With soccer, he said he sees a high number of ankle strains and sprains.
“But sometimes people are unfortunate and they fracture their ankles, and there are occasional serious head injuries,” said Kerr, team physician for Siena College men’s and women’s soccer teams and the Scottish Football Association’s National Women’s Team.
While track and field and cross-country have a lower incidence of injury, Kerr said he has seen patients with overuse problems.
“I’ve seen a couple of girls in the last few weeks who were working hard all summer in preparation for their cross-country season, and they’ve developed stress fractures or shin splints, which are very painful,” said Kerr. “Those injuries are not related to trauma as much as just not quite getting the balance between training and recovery.”
Benefits of participating
Still, Kerr said the good thing about sports is that the majority of athletes remain injury-free.
“Despite the risk of injury, we encourage participation,” he said. “It’s useful to be involved in athletic activity, and there’s a lot of benefit in being involved with a team.”
Kerr said every time athletes perform a skill to the best of their ability, they take away something positive.
“You don’t have to be the most valuable player on the team to get those positive experiences,” he said.
Participating in sports also builds character and leadership abilities.
“Beyond that, there are scholarships available for college, and many employers look at your ability to balance academic activities with participation in sports when interviewing for jobs,” said Kerr.
To prevent injuries, Kerr stressed warming up and stretching before playing a sport.
“Having the skeletal maturity for the sport that you play is also important,” Kerr explained. “One of the reasons we perform pre-participation physicals is to establish that people are ready for varsity sports, for instance.”
High school and college athletes should always tell their athletic trainer or coach if they are hurt.
“The majority of sports medicine physicians like myself will try to encourage participation in sports, as long as it is safe to do so,” said Kerr. “Kids should not be concerned that they are going to be held out unnecessarily, and that has, perhaps, been an obstacle in the past.”
Eager for the spring
Neumann, a practical nurse at the Albany Regional Kidney Center, is hopeful she will be back playing softball next spring.
“Softball is important to me, but I don’t want to seriously hurt myself any worse than it already is,” she said. “If I get it fixed now, hopefully by next spring, I’ll be able to play again.”