High school athletes alone account for an estimated 2 million injuries each year. In fact, several studies report that teenage athletes are injured at about the same rate as professional athletes. The catch is that when injuries occur during this important time of body development, they can be more severe and sometimes have lasting effects. The primary reason: high school athletes are still growing. Many teens are training at rigorous levels while their body is experiencing rapid changes. Bones grow first and can pull on muscles, tendons and ligaments that are being stretched and forced through repetitive exercises. This can be painful, throw off an athlete’s coordination and make them susceptible to injuries.
Depending on their sport of choice, major joints (ankle, knee, shoulder, elbow and hips) are where most high school athletes experience pain. Sprains and strains are also common and can be difficult to properly diagnosis. It’s important that coaches and parents create an environment where the student athlete can listen to their body’s cues. Excessive pressure to “push through the pain” can create a cascade of problems.
An injury, whether acute or from overuse, should start with a visit to the athlete’s primary care doctor. From there, additional exams or specialists may be necessary to help identify the cause of pain and determine proper treatment. At Wake Radiology UNC REX Healthcare, we’ve seen how combining high-quality medical imaging with a patient’s medical history and physical exam can help detect and diagnose injuries – often before they irreversibly impact a young person’s future. Plus, taking time to identify the cause of the injury typically leads to faster recovery and less time away from an athlete’s sport.
WakeRad UNC REX is unique in that it has a full team of subspecialty trained radiologists who have received additional training in musculoskeletal (MSK) and orthopedic/sports related imaging. Working with referring physicians and orthopedic surgeons for 65 years, we’ve created a collaborative community.
“We are able to detect abnormalities that were largely unrecognized by both radiologists and orthopedists until recently,” explains MSK radiologist Nik P. Wasudev, M.D., a joint intervention specialist.
Orthopedic medical imaging continues to advance by leaps and bounds. X-rays can show broken bones, but an ultrasound or a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can uncover structural and functional sports-related problems that are otherwise very difficult to distinguish.
For example, take an active person in their teens or early twenties with hip pain. This patient’s doctor would likely refer them for an MRI to rule out a stress fracture or a labral tear (an injury to the ring of tissue that follows the outside rim of the socket of your hip joint). In some patients, the MRI shows normal marrow signal and is otherwise unimpressive. However, others will have relatively subtle anatomic abnormalities. Recognizing a labral tear, if it is appropriately managed and is treated early on, can prevent accelerated degenerative joint disease later in life and even help preserve what could otherwise be a limited athletic career.
“This is a good example of a diagnosis that a radiologist who isn’t properly trained and actively practicing in the MSK/ortho field may miss,” said Wasudev. “My colleagues look for it. We have optimized our protocols to fully identify and characterize it when necessary.”
Particularly with sports injuries, medical imaging and subspecialty trained radiologists can help determine the severity of an injury and establish a diagnosis that may be unsuspected clinically. Our MSK/ortho radiologists also work closely with primary care physicians and orthopedic surgeons providing specific information that support decisions around care, treatment, recovery, and when needed, surgical options.
If you have a sports-related injury in your family, think about the importance medical imaging can have in a proper diagnosis and consider requesting your images be done at WakeRad UNC REX. A proper diagnosis can mean the difference between sitting on the sidelines or getting back in the game.