Jonathan Fallon, DO, and Sherri Kuchinskas, MD, sports medicine specialists, share insights from their experiences caring for collegiate athletes on and off the court in this interview.
Dr. Fallon is chief of Orthopaedics at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, MA, and a sports medicine specialist at Cooley Dickinson Medical Group Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in neighboring West Hatfield. He has worked as a team physician and consultant to sports teams at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass-Amherst) for approximately 14 years, including with the football, basketball, and hockey teams. He also has extensive experience in joint replacement and emergency orthopedic surgery.
Sherri Kuchinskas, MD, is a nonsurgical orthopedic specialist and cares for patients with sports, musculoskeletal, and joint injuries and conditions. A former All-American softball player at UMass-Amherst, she served on the medical staff for a WNBA team during a 1-year sports medicine fellowship at the University of Illinois. She is board certified in sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation and works closely with the area colleges and high school athletic teams. Dr. Kuchinskas has been a sports medicine physician in the area for 15 years.
Kuchinskas: I think it gives me perspective, both mentally and physically. I understand the demands of Division I level training as well as balancing education. Having also recovered from two ACL repairs during my career, I understand the rehab from both sides and the desire to return to playing as soon as possible.
Fallon: Football keeps me the busiest, because of the size of the team and the physical nature of their sport. The types of injuries will vary with the various sports. Higher velocity and impact sports can result in more traumatic injuries but it’s often the repetitive trauma and overuse injuries that can linger and be difficult to manage.
Fallon: Basketball has a long season. It’s a grind for these athletes, so we see a lot of chronic issues start to surface mid-season. I work with the trainers, strength coaches, and the coaching staff to try to keep the athletes as involved as possible. We still get the intermittent traumatic injury like the ACL injuries, including ACL tears, and wrist injuries, like fractures, but fortunately that is the exception, not the rule.
Fallon: Active people can certainly develop overuse injuries, especially if they are employed in a physical job.
Kuchinskas: There are many common mechanisms between athletic and occupational performance. Form truly does follow function and whether you’re throwing a ball or swinging a hammer all day, the same biomechanical and injury patterns occur.
Fallon: The best prevention is good maintenance. Just like taking care of your car or garden, regular self-care is a critical element. A good diet and semiregular exercise are important to leading a healthy life, and for helping to prevent injuries. There is a saying that I like to use with my kids: "The will to win is nothing without the will to train.” It’s true for athletes as well as for the rest of us ‘average Joes.’ If you want to be healthy and active — and hopefully, by extension, generally less prone to injuries—you have to maintain a level of exercise and fitness.
Kuchinskas: As the former medical director for a collegiate athletic training program and exercise physiologist, there is nothing more important than balance. This is especially true for younger athletes who are still developing physically. Risk factors like only playing one sport year-round or overusing one body part (such as throwing or running) lead to repetitive trauma and injuries. These are often the hardest and longest to recover from. Off-season or out-of-season training involving various muscle groups, as well as mixing in some aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (weights) energy systems can go a long way.
Fallon: The most common surgeries I do are shoulder repairs and ACL reconstructions, usually the result of orthopedic trauma but also can occur from repetition or overuse. For the most part, the techniques that I use for my high-level athletes, I get to use on everyone else. The difference primarily is the resources for recovery and training afterwards. My athletes are hyper-focused on returning to their sports and can dedicate significant resources and time to recovery. For average folks, it may take longer for them to bounce back, especially if they don’t have the same time or equipment, or level of focus, or motivation, to speed their recovery along.
Kuchinskas: My practice is dedicated to nonsurgical solutions and management. Most sports injuries fall into this category and often it is just as challenging as restoring anatomical continuity to a torn ligament or tendon. As a physiatrist, I focus a lot on kinesiology and helping injured tissue heal quicker using various types of orthobiologics, a type of regenerative medicine treatment.
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