Athletic training is a dynamic field; one that is always evolving to lead and sometimes follow the latest innovations and technologies. As educators in the field, we help create, identify, and establish these trends by the research we perform and the practices we teach our students. However, at the University of Idaho we go beyond that. Every semester our students leave campus behind to work in immersive clinical sites across the country, bridging the gap between academia and industry. This allows us a unique perspective, as well as opportunities for collaboration and innovation within the field. Here are the new trends in athletic training we are keeping an eye on.
Evidence-based patient care
Evidence-based practice is a conscientious, problem-solving approach to clinical practice, where clinical experience, scientific evidence, and patient values overlap.
The idea of using the best available science for patient care is not new. However, this model emphasizes that the scientific research literature is always changing, and the importance of the healthcare practitioner staying current and utilizing this new information in day-to-day patient care. How does evidence-based practice improve patient care? What may be the best practice today, may not be the best practice tomorrow. Practitioners should not blindly accept patient care methods. Instead, they are often rigorously tested until clinicians and researchers can identify which patient care scenarios would dictate specific evaluation, diagnostic, and treatment techniques. By doing this, we work so that athletic trainers can provide the best-informed athlete care.
The amount of meaningful information accumulates with great speed and frequency. Also, just because research is being produced doesn’t mean it’s applicable or meaningful for all patients. This is where clinical experience and patient values come in. The clinical decision making for any clinician is a complex process that should change patient-to-patient. Additionally, the personal, social, mental, emotional, and environmental needs of each patient are never going to be the same between two individuals. This is why it is important to us all three aims of evidence-based practice.
Active Concussion Treatment
One place evidence-based medicine is changing the field is in concussion treatment. Emerging research is challenging so-called “cocoon therapy”, a treatment option that calls for sustained rest from all activities after a concussion until all symptoms have passed. Instead, better outcomes have been observed with active concussion treatment, where after an initial resting period patients gradually increase their activity levels. This so-called “active concussion treatment” leads to a faster decline of symptoms, and overall improved patient outcomes. More research is still being performed on the best implementations of active concussion treatments.
Focus on Manual Therapy
What is manual therapy? Manual therapy is the application of manual force to the body. There are a wide range of techniques, some using the practitioners’ hands, others using specifically-designed instruments. Manual therapy can be used to reduce pain, increase range of motion, decrease swelling or inflammation, facilitate movement, and many other things. Athletic trainers utilize a variety of manual therapy techniques, including soft tissue mobilization, strain-counterstrain, and joint mobilization. Although learning these techniques can be time-intensive, our athletic training programs here at the University of Idaho emphasis manual therapy. Why? These athletic training methods are among the most effective and sought-after in the field. Putting in the time and effort in the classroom means improved patient outcomes after graduation.
Prevention of injury
When considering athletic trainer duties, effective practitioners don’t focus solely on recovery. Injury prevention is arguably more important, and the industry is moving more and more in this direction. Athletic trainers may instruct their patients on proper use of equipment, teach exercises to improve balance and strength, even advise on proper nutrition. Prevention of injuries is a significant reason we are seeing more and more athletic trainers employed in private industry, and not solely in athlete care. Private companies who employ athletic trainers report a decrease of costs associated with workplace injuries by more than 50%.
Collaboration with other professionals
Athletic trainers are in a prime position for collaboration within the healthcare setting. They may be the one referring a patient to a physician’s care or assisting in an emergency transfer to a hospital. They may work under the direction of a physician in rehabilitation, or with physical and occupational therapists in an out-patient clinic. Better collaboration always leads to better patient care, and athletic trainers are perfectly positioned to facilitate that collaboration.
As you can see, all these trends go back to improving patient outcomes and practicing evidence-based patient care. Evidence-based patient care is something we are passionate about at the University of Idaho, and something we built into our programs from the beginning. We guide our students in gathering patient outcomes and performing their own research. We believe this professional curiosity keeps them improving their patient care long after they finish the program. Just like us, they will be staying abreast of the latest trends in athletic training this year, next year, and in the years that follow.