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“Now an athlete might come to you and say, ‘I got hit hard in the head at practice, can I get looked at?’,” Armstrong says. “Because I cover so many teams and can’t be at every practice and game, I rely on that to help me do my job.” While concussions are a hot button topic, athletic trainers have more responsibilities than just assessing head injuries. In conjunction with physicians, they work to prevent, examine, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate acute and chronic injuries. On any given day, that might mean assessing a baseball player’s sprained ankle, referring a tennis player to an orthopedist for a nagging elbow injury, running a soccer player through the concussion protocol, and bandaging a runner’s blister. Athletic trainers are sometimes confused with personal trainers, but there is big difference in the education and skills of these two professionals. Athletic trainers must hold a degree in athletic training, and 70 percent of athletic trainers have a master’s degree. They must also pass a certification exam to practice. Athletic trainer programs are currently in the process of becoming master’s level only, so all future Athletic trainers will hold an advanced degree. This intense training and skill level is good news for today’s athletes – as is the move toward including athletic trainers in more high schools across the country. Armstrong is a full-time school system employee – she teaches during the day, and covers practices and games in the afternoons and evenings. She explains that some school systems contract with a hospital or physical therapy group to provide coverage for sports rather than employing someone at the school. However, Armstrong thinks her daily presence in the school helps her do her job. “I form real relationships with these student-athletes,” she says. “When you know them personally, you know if something is off. No athlete can return to practice if a concussion is suspected by a coach, or me, or another medical professional. So having me here full-time is helpful.” While plenty of high schools and most middle schools do not have an athletic trainer, Armstrong, who is involved in the athletic trainers profession’s governing body to bring about important changes, says we are moving toward legislation that will mandate athletic trainers at all high schools. A move that will help more athletes stay healthy and safe while competing on the field, around the track, in the pool and on the courts.
EXPERT CONTRIBUTOR Jen Armstrong, an athletic trainer at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg.
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