For years, athletic trainers (ATs) were thought as medical professionals who did what they could in a pinch to get an athlete back in the game.

Gone are the days when ATs would simply patch up injured athletes and prognosticate their returns to play.

Today, ATs are increasingly prescribing corrective exercises, identifying weaknesses and advising recovery strategies to help athletes move more efficiently and avoid future injuries.

With rates of major ligament or cartilage damage, sudden cardiac death (SCD) and other sport related injuries on the rise, it’s not surprising steps are being taken to minimize the risk of these injuries.

Everyone knows that you assume risk of injury when participating in sport, but a majority of the population might not realize that these injuries can be minimized with proper strengthening, education and screening for risk-factors.

For adolescent athletes, we know that changes in skeletal and physiological attributes coincide with an increased risk of sport related injury. A window of vulnerability is produced by the properties of the musculoskeletal system, the influence of pubertal hormones, and the lag time between physical and cognitive development.

Sports injuries constitute 10-19 percent of all acute injuries treated in emergency departments, with injuries to the knee and ankle being the most common types. Major knee and ankle injuries can require surgeries that can lead to long recoveries including physical therapy and time off from sport.

Some studies show the incidence of knee and ankle injuries can be reduced by at least 50 percent, showing how preventive training should be routine in training programs for adolescents, especially in pivoting/twisting sports.

Last summer began my quest to begin minimizing the risk of lower body injuries of Petoskey high school student athletes with a 7-week injury prevention and agility course which will continue again this summer.

The course starts with a general screening of lower body and core strength which determines the path for the rest of the program as well as the education the athletes will need to succeed.

Once strength imbalances and body awareness are improved, the participants will begin agility and plyometric training to focus on acceleration, deceleration, planting, pivoting and repositioning body mass appropriately to effectively change direction. The movements listed above are what an injured athlete typically describes as what happened when they sustain a non-contact major ligament or cartilage injury.

Another growing concern in athletics is sudden cardiac death. In the state of Michigan, it is required that a student athlete have a preparticipation physical examination before the start of their athletic season.

Unfortunately, cardiovascular abnormalities can be difficult to detect through the typical personal and family history exam done during a physical. Medical technology is available to help assist with screening for abnormalities not so easily detected during a routine physical exam. Although these incidents are rare, the impact of SCD can be catastrophic.

Exercise and athletics are important for physical and cognitive development of adolescents. Fortunately, with the proper prep-work, the risk of injury can be greatly reduced.

It is generally recommended that injury prevention programs start at least two months before the start of a season, so there’s no time like the present to think ahead to fall sports.

Lindsey Griffes is the athletic trainer for Petoskey High School and also works at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. She can be reached via e-mail at This information is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.