The Industrial Athletic Trainer

Worker at on-site rehabilitation

What do an Athletic Trainer and an Industrial Rehab Program have in common? Well, a lot more then you may think! When I began my professional career, I was convinced that I would spend the next 40 years of my life working with athletes and eventually retire as the head athletic trainer of a professional sports team. After graduation I was hired by a physical therapy company and had the opportunity to work with a local minor league baseball team. A few months later, the team dissolved and I began my transition to treating the “industrial athlete”. Over the next six months I traveled to rehabilitation clinics that specialized in the treatment and rehabilitation of the injured worker. My knowledge of biomechanics and return to function was a perfect fit between the athlete and the injured worker. I began performing Functional Progress Notes and Functional Discharge Summaries on our workers’ compensation patients. As my knowledge of workers’ compensation grew and I began to enjoy working with the industrial athlete, I transitioned to creating work hardening/conditioning programs and performing functional capacity evaluations. I believe that my prior experience as an athletic trainer was a key component to my smooth transition into this new world that I had no knowledge of previously.

I think that many would agree occupational injuries and sports injuries are very similar in nature. Both workers and athletes are susceptible to a variety of overuse and acute musculoskeletal disorders which means there is virtually no difference between treating a “sports athlete” and an “industrial athlete”. The same skills that an athletic trainer would use to return an injured pitcher to the mound can be leveraged to return a police officer to the line of duty. Athletic trainers specialize in managing and rehabilitating injuries that result from physical activity by progressing the patient to high level functional tasks as soon as possible. This specific focus on restoring function is what separates an athletic trainer from any other allied health care professional. The notion that an athletic trainer can only treat an athlete has changed drastically since being recognized as an allied health care professional by the American Medical Association in 1990. Today, greater than 70% of athletic trainers hold at least a masters degree.

Athletic trainers are an asset to any established or blooming industrial rehab program, especially in a work hardening/conditioning program. The observational skills developed on the field, combined with their knowledge of proper body mechanics allows them to ensure clients are safely performing their return-to-work exercises. Athletic trainers have been developing strength and conditioning programs for years. So why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of this skillset in your current practice?

Athletic trainers are also incredibly efficient at performing functional capacity evaluations. Their knowledge of biomechanics creates a solid foundation for performing these assessments. Athletic trainers are also very skilled at performing orthopedic evaluations, including; range of motion testing, manual muscle testing and special tests. Most of these health care professionals have extensive experience performing activity specific return-to-play testing on athletes that allows them to think outside of the box to create customized tests for an individual.

Ultimately, the abilities of an athletic trainer within any industrial rehab program is governed by the practice act of that specific state. Currently 39 states require an athletic trainer to obtain a license in order to practice in that state. Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon and West Virginia require registration. While Kentucky, Louisiana, New York and South Carolina only require certification and California has no state regulations. It is imperative to understand your practice act before performing any of these services.

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