The Unsung Heroes of Sports Medicine - What Exactly is an Athletic Trainer?

September 21, 2020

by: Christopher Huckle, DO

As I start to write this post, the first collegiate football game is being played. Football is not the only sport gearing up - Softball, Soccer, Cross Country, and many other sports are about to begin their seasons as well. Every year there are hundreds of new athletes either matriculating into high school or transferring in from other areas and every year there are a few similar questions that every new athlete/parent ask. One of which deals with arguably the most important member of any sports medicine team - what is an athletic trainer and what do they do?

Who is the person that runs onto the field to take care of the injured athlete?

Most schools now utilize an Athletic Trainer to take care of all the sports medicine needs for their athletes. According to the National Athletic Trainer Association, an athletic trainer is defined as, "highly qualified, multi-skilled health care professionals who render service or treatment, under the direction of or in collaboration with a physician, in accordance with their education, training and the state’s statutes, rules and regulations." 

In a nutshell, Athletic Trainers are skilled healthcare professionals that provide injury prevention services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. This means they are ready to see anything and everything related to the full care of the student athlete.

These frontline medical professionals are with the student athletes celebrating their successes on an off the field and when or if an injury happens, they are there providing care for the athlete. With regards to a potential injury, Athletic Trainers often are present to see the mechanism of injury and can quickly communicate with medical providers and/or EMS about the nature of the injury.

My kid sustained an injury during a practice or a game, what are the next steps?

One of the many benefits of having an AT on site is that statistically and significantly their presence helps reduce the severity of injuries such as heat-related illness, concussions, and potentially severe spine injuries. However, injuries are unfortunately a part of sports. When an injury does happen, your athlete should have the AT perform a thorough evaluation.

Athletic Trainers can dictate where an athlete needs to go, whether that is to a Sports/Orthopedic physician, an Urgent Care, and/or in extreme circumstances the Emergency Department. Every AT is qualified to help direct your athlete in times of injury and can help save a lot of time and worry. If your Athletic Trainer is not on site when the injury happens, they are usually close by and a simple phone call is not only welcomed but expected.

My athlete has been complaining of discomfort during their activities but has not had an injury. Can an Athletic Trainer evaluate them for this?

Yes. Athletic Trainers can get a thorough history and can/will perform tests to determine if an injury may be present or if there may be a need to see your athlete’s primary care provider. If your athlete is experiencing any discomfort, have your athlete ask their AT if they can perform an examination that can help direct if and/or when they may need to see a physician. However, depending on the injury, Athletic Trainers can provide treatments and can also institute therapy programs to keep your student athlete functioning.

Does an Athletic Trainer have the training and education to treat my athlete?

Athletic Trainers are not only educated but also well trained. After attending an accredited college, all Athletic Trainers must pass a board exam to ensure they are able to perform the duties required. On top of that, they are also required to have continuing education in order to stay up to date with the recent advances in sports medicine. Most states, including Georgia, now require a license to practice athletic training as well. Additionally, around 70% of ATs then go on to pursue a Master's degree or higher to hone their skill. Athletic Trainers are employed in a wide variety of settings. Some of these include, secondary schools, college/universities, large corporations (Coca Cola, Delta, Amazon), performing arts, Rodeo, NASA and NASCAR. The educational requirements grant the AT the ability to use their specific techniques in many different areas.

The best way to sum up our athletic trainers is to write out the AT Manifesto: "My patient's well-being is my first priority. I provide thoughtful, compassionate health care always respecting the rights, welfare and dignity of others. As the advocate from my patient's best medical interest, I make competent decisions based on evidence-based practice. I act with integrity. I fully understand and uphold the NATA code of ethics, providing the best possible patient care at all times. I comply with laws and regulations governing the practice of athletic training and I pledge to maintain and promote the highest quality of health care. I am an Athletic Trainer."


Learn more about NGPG's Athletic Training Program and Meet our Athletic Trainers.