Sponsored: Youth athlete injury management starts with prevention: Q&A with Dr. James Hahn

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This article was written by Dr. James Hahn, Sports Medicine Specialist at St. Elizabeth Physicians. He sees patients in Greendale, IN, as well as at St. Elizabeth Sports Medicine Mt. Zion and Griffin.

Q: What is your area of specialization?

A: I was trained in pediatrics before completing a fellowship in primary care sports medicine.

Q: What does a sports medicine specialist do? When should people seek help from one?

A: Sports medicine specialists work with individuals and teams to help prevent and treat sports-related injuries and conditions. We are ideally suited to provide comprehensive medical care for athletes, sports teams or active individuals who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Q: What’s something surprising about your specialty that people might not know?

A: Sports medicine specialists don’t just treat acute injuries like ankle sprains and overuse injuries like tendonitis or stress fractures. Sports medicine specialists have additional training in non-musculoskeletal aspects of sports. Some of these include the management of concussions and other head injuries, heat illnesses, sports nutrition, strength training and conditioning, and medical conditions that can affect sports performance like asthma and diabetes. We also make return-to-play decisions after illnesses like COVID-19.

Q: What is St. Elizabeth doing in this field that is innovative, unique or leading edge that is helping patients?

A: I believe St Elizabeth’s biggest strength is in its people, and this is particularly true of our sports medicine team. We have an extensive network of athletic trainers that provide sports medicine services to 45 middle schools, high schools and universities in Northern Kentucky and Indiana. 

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Having our sports medicine physicians completely integrated with athletic trainers helps support a number of programs that are unique to our area. Injury prevention is one such program that we uniquely tailor to our individual schools and sports teams. Our athletic trainers enter an athlete’s injury information into a centralized database that tracks numerous factors related to the injury and return to play. We compile this injury information, analyze it, and then provide comprehensive reports specific to an individual sports team’s injury data. 

Physicians, team athletic trainers and coaches collaborate and identify areas for improvement. For example, if the rate of a specific injury or injured body part is too high on a particular team, we review that team’s practice schedule, training routine and injury prevention measures. With that information, we identify interventions to decrease injury and optimize performance.  

The Orthopaedic Institute at St. Elizabeth also has created an innovative youth ACL Injury Prevention Program that is delivered through short video demonstrations and education available online.  High school athletes have a 1 in 100 chance of tearing their ACL. Sports that involve cutting, jumping, landing and pivoting increase the risk of ACL injury. This program helps athletes increase strength and learn new techniques and skills to reduce their risk of an ACL injury.

The ACL Injury Prevention Program developed by the Orthopaedic Institute at St. Elizabeth offers a series of short training videos that help student athletes increase strength and reduce the risk of an ACL injury.

Q: What is currently on the horizon for sports medicine? What changes might we expect in the next few years?

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A: There have been several “hot topics” in sports medicine, particularly in the area of regenerative medicine. This is a field of medicine that regrows, repairs or replaces damaged or diseased organs or tissues to restore normal function.

However, as a pediatrician focusing on sports medicine, I am very concerned with our young athletes’ long-term physical and mental well-being. I worry about the current state of youth sports, with kids often specializing in one sport to the exclusion of all others early in their athletic careers. Many young athletes play the same sport year-round, and they are on multiple teams. We know that this can result in a number of detrimental consequences, such as burnout, overtraining and injury. The psychological and physical harm to young athletes can be enormous. 

My hope is that the pendulum swings back and the future of youth sports looks more like it did in the past — young kids playing several different sports, having some downtime between seasons and allowing time for free play. Young athletes should delay sports specialization until later adolescence and work towards physical activities and disciplines that they can continue well into adulthood. 

Sports medicine specialists at St. Elizabeth do more than manage acute bone and muscle injuries. They also treat and manage non-musculoskeletal issues such as concussions and other head injuries, heat illnesses, sports nutrition, strength training and conditioning, and medical conditions that can affect sports performance like asthma and diabetes.

Q: From your perspective as a sports medicine specialist, what should people be aware of to prevent disease or catch it early?

A: Movement is medicine. Most chronic diseases can be prevented or lessened with a healthy lifestyle, which includes routine physical activity. It is recommended that children from grade school onward get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days. This is critical for preventing medical problems like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It’s also critical for reducing stress, improving sleep quality, boosting self-esteem and improving overall well-being. For adults, the recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity five days a week (at least 150 minutes weekly) and strength or resistance training activities at least twice a week.

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