March was National Athletic Training Month, and the NATA once again did a great job building awareness of emerging trends and innovations in our field. Now more than ever, medical professionals and laypeople alike recognize the tremendous role athletic trainers can play — not just in their athletes’ rehabilitation, but in the continual optimization of their performance.
From improved treatment techniques to impending legislation and new models of care, this year’s National Athletic Training Month brought to light many intriguing developments. If you’re a trainer, department head, or facility manager looking to improve your practice, you will want to stay up to speed on the following seven athletic training trends.
1. Evidence-Based Practice
Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) is fast becoming the norm among rehabilitation professionals, and athletic trainers are no exception. New research is being published monthly. The last decade has seen significant efforts in the use of reliable evidence to improve patient care, enhance the profession’s reputation, and increase the potential for reimbursement. As with physical therapy, athletic training departments are also moving toward required graduate degrees, furthering the profession’s reputation and credibility within the healthcare industry.
2. Active Concussion Treatment
Concussion research has come a long way in the last few years, and athletic trainers have led the fight for more proactive management. Once regarded as largely benign injuries, concussions are now known to cause significant long-term health complications when left untreated. Newer, evidence-based protocols often include six important elements: cognitive rest, physical rest, medication and intervention, transition back to school, graded return to play, and extra considerations for high-risk patients.
3. Manual Therapies
Physical therapists and chiropractors are not the only professionals specializing in hands-on care. Joint mobilizations, manipulations, traditional massage, and soft tissue mobilization are all becoming integral to athletic training practice. These and other manual techniques can relieve pain, restore range of motion, and ultimately keep athletes healthier throughout their competitive seasons.
4. Injury Prevention
Gone are the days when athletic trainers would simply patch up injured athletes and prognosticate their returns to play. In fact, the NATA’s slogan for the 2017 National Athletic Training Month was, “Your Protection is Our Priority.” ATs are increasingly prescribing corrective exercises, identifying weaknesses, and advising recovery strategies to help athletes move more efficiently and avoid future injuries.
The push toward prevention is also leading to new models of care. Holistic, multidisciplinary sports medicine may soon be the norm, and pioneers like Emory Healthcare and the Atlanta Hawks are paving the way. Roughly a third of the Hawks’ new 90,000-square-foot training facility has been allocated to Emory’s sports medicine programs, where staff will combine physical exams, radiology, rehabilitation, movement analysis, and a host of other services.
5. Healthcare Collaboration
Likewise, prevention and rehabilitation require consistent collaboration with physicians and other members of the healthcare team. ATs are even becoming commonplace in hospital-based communities and outpatient clinics, employed as casting and orthotic technologists, orthopedic technologists, and sports medicine liaisons.
6. A Push for Legislative Protection
As athletic trainers gain in responsibility and efficacy, they also face greater legal liability — and rules get particularly hard to follow when crossing state lines. Supported by the NATA, the Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act clarifies medical liability rules to ensure athletic trainers are covered by their malpractice insurance when they travel with their teams. If passed, this bill would ensure the services ATs provide on the road will be deemed to have occurred in their primary states of licensure.
7. Performance Optimization
Finally, athletic trainers are expanding their roles to include not just rehabilitation and prevention, but performance optimization. With their knowledge of biomechanics and the recovery process — and given their increasing collaboration with coaches and physicians — ATs are better positioned than ever to improve their patients’ results on and off the field.
Overall, the field of athletic training is only becoming more diverse, complex, and in-demand. As you hire new ATs and pursue continuing education opportunities, keep these trends in mind to ensure your department is on the cutting edge.