Less Pain, More Games

How new sports medicine treatments are changing the industry


Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a collegiate or professional athlete, preventing and treating sports injuries is vital to maintaining optimal physical performance. Sports medicine, which has been a specialty for 60-plus years, specializes in just that.

“It’s a great profession to be in,” says Brandon Yoder, director of sports medicine at Marquette University. “It’s an opportunity to stay close to athletics [and] to be a part of that team atmosphere — whether your playing days are done or not — and then to collaborate with players [and] coaches. On the other medical side, [working with] physicians and health care professionals throughout and being right in the trenches of it throughout [the process] is what makes the profession really incredible.”

Sports medicine, which works hand in hand with athletic training, encompasses every stage of injury prevention and treatment, including proper conditioning techniques, examination, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, emergent care and managing acute chronic injuries and medical conditions.

“It encompasses the before, the during and the after,” Yoder notes.

Common injuries include sprains, strains, fractures and dislocations, as well as persistent injuries. “We’ll see acute, traumatic things that occur in practices or games, regardless of the sport,” Yoder explains. “Somebody lands wrong, twists an ankle or knee really bad — or it could even be more severe than that in an emergent situation. We also see a lot of chronic issues.”

Sports injuries can occur from a series of situations, including inadequate training, improper use of protective devices, or insufficient stretching or warm up exercises. Even with proper training and stretching, injuries still occur, and with new therapy procedures sports medicine can help treat a vast array of injuries in innovative ways.

“It’s a unique time just because, similar to the power of social media, the internet allows [access to] a lot of information not just to student athletes, but to a lot of health care professionals [as well],” Yoder says.

Common trending treatments include trigger point therapies, laser therapy and blood flow restriction therapy.

According to the National Association of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists (NAMTPT), trigger points are caused when muscles become stressed or injured, which results in knots that cause pain or tightness and can trigger pain in other areas — a shift called referred pain.

To treat trigger points, according to NAMTPT, therapists apply pressure with a finger or instrument to build up pressure that eventually releases the trigger point. Another common method in trigger point therapy is to use a vapo-coolant spray to “distract” the muscle with the sensation of cold, allowing it to perform a more complete stretch, thereby releasing the trigger point.

Blood flow restriction therapy asks patients to perform specific exercises with a narrow band around the arm or leg — the areas most commonly treated with this method — which reduces blood flow and allows the use of muscles without placing excessive weight on the limb. It also gives patients the benefits of heavy weight lifting without stressing the tissues and muscles.

Another newer therapy taking over sports medicine is laser therapy, a form of rehabilitation that increases the production of the energy-providing chemical adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the cells, which accelerates the natural healing process.

“What laser therapy entails is providing an optimal healing environment at the cellular level,” Yoder says. “We’ve had athletes that have responded very well to laser therapy, and we’re very fortunate to have that here at Marquette.”

According to PowerMedic Lasers, laser therapy can heal conditions such as tendonitis, tennis elbow and jumper’s knee in three to four weeks, and sprains and torn ligaments in six to eight weeks.

Though athletic injuries are relatively inevitable, Yoder says prevention can be as easy as proper warm up and cool down, rest, knowing your body’s limitations and the common and popular RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation).

“At the core of it, we want to keep everybody safe, and we want to keep people healthy,” Yoder says. MKE