Trainers must provide acceptable care to student athletes

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

Many high schools have athletic programs that entrust the care and keeping of their student athletes to the skill of athletic trainers. These health care professionals are not doctors but are usually an athlete’s first line of treatment after an injury. While quite often their days are spent wrapping ankles and identifying sprains, occasionally they run into a more serious injury. And while parents hope the trainer’s ability to identify serious injuries is as good as their ability to tape ankles, there is always potential for misdiagnosing or missing serious problems.

Athletic trainers, like physical therapists, have years of education to support their abilities to identify and treat athletic injuries. However, as the NFL has shown us, some injuries may present with relatively minor symptoms but have disastrous consequences. Since NFL concussion research began, athletic trainers have had to redevelop their methods of diagnosing injuries to offer athletes a more comprehensive analysis of their condition.

For high school students, athletic trainers are typically health care professionals whose services are offered by and often in conjunction with the local medical facility. While the service these trainers provide to student athletes is no less valuable than their higher paid counterparts provide to professional athletes, they may operate with a less stringent system of check and balances and more lenient and forgiving margin of error. Many parents rely on athletic trainers to address their child’s injuries because their services are free. Likewise, parents also want their children back participating as soon as possible.

Head injuries, ACL tears and fractures are all common sports injuries that can present with symptoms similar to less severe issues. While it is an athletic trainer’s job to identify and treat these injuries, they may also try to get athletes back in the game sooner than they should. Pushing physical activity on an already injured body can do further and possibly lifelong damage to a young athlete. And while extremely serious injuries may be few and far between, a trainer’s reluctance to pursue advanced medical attention may put student athletes at risk.

Athletic trainers are supposed to operate at the same level of professional conduct as medical doctors. And for student athletes that have suffered due to a trainer missing or misdiagnosing a serious injury, a medical malpractice attorney may be able to help hold them to that level.

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