Student-athletes decide between trainer and doctor

Student-athletes decide between trainer and doctor

Senior Ella MacVeagh sprinted onto the field on her first day of preseason as a freshman. She battled another girl for the ball and then suddenly fell to the ground. She cried in pain, wondering what went wrong on such a simple cut to the right.

Injuries are a part of the game for many student-athletes. Trainer Alex Jzyk estimates that he treats more than 300 athletes each year. According to Jzyk, 100 more athletes were referred to team physician Laurence Higgins in 2011. But how does an injured athlete decide if they should go to the trainer or to a doctor?

Jzyk explained that the training staff often has more experience than primary care physicians in treating sports-related injuries.

“It can be very frustrating when a primary care physician tries to make orthopedic decisions because there are things that we feel like we can do better in a much quicker time,” Jzyk said. “But if the doctor says that they have to be out this long, then there’s nothing we can do.”

Jzyk refers student-athletes to a doctor when there is concern about possible fractures, ligament tears or severe head trauma, because the high school has no X-Ray or MRI machines.

Dr. Roger Spingarn, a pediatrician in Newton, said that a trainer is often at the scene of the injury, so they naturally respond to the athlete first. In addition, he said the trainer is usually more familiar with the athlete than a doctor, which is important when trying to assess an injury right after it happens.

Spingarn said that the best way to make the decision about whether to see a doctor is to wait 24 hours and observe how the recovery is progressing.

“If it seems to be 20 percent or 50 percent or 70 percent better the next day, then I think you don’t necessarily need to see somebody,” Spingarn said. “If it seems to be as bad as it was or getting worse, that changes your decision making.”

Spingarn stressed that the decision is never black and white.

“Many trainers are better at assessing sports injuries in the heat of the moment,” Spingarn said. “But there are some physicians who may provide you with better information, and there are some trainers who can provide you with better information.”

When MacVeagh hurt her knee, she decided to go to a knee specialist who gave her an MRI. Through the MRI, MacVeagh learned she had a torn ACL.

Though both Jzyk and Spingarn said there are many advantages to having the trainer treat most injuries, Dr. Higgins said that orthopedists have a more specialized background in treating extreme injuries.

Regardless of whether an athlete turns to a doctor or trainer, Jyzk says the main goal of any treatment plan is to keep athletes happy and healthy.

“We’re very much on the athlete’s side,” he said. “We don’t get any joy by taking athletes out. We don’t get paid more. It’s about doing what’s best for the student.”

Jeremy Margolis can be contacted at [email protected]