Injured Athletic Trainer

August 14, 2018


By Larry Cooper

Larry Cooper, MS, LAT, ATC, is Head Athletic Trainer at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pa., where he also teaches health, physical education, and sports medicine classes. Since 2012, he has served as Chair of the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee. Winner of a 2016 NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award, 2015 T&C Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award, and 2014 NATA Athletic Training Service Award, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Society Hall of Fame in 2014. Cooper can be reached at: [email protected].


As athletic trainers, we are always taking care of our athletes, and we are confident in our abilities to do so. But what if the table turns and you become injured? How do you handle it? Do you seek outside help? Are you a compliant patient? Do you practice what you preach?

Hopefully, this has been rare for all of you, but I am sure at least one of you has been through this. When the athletic trainer becomes injured, it’s a great time to reinforce—while your student-athletes are watching—that it is important to get daily treatment for normal progression back to activity. It is also a good time to demonstrate what a compliant patient does. Those teachable moments are sometimes more meaningful than anything you can say.

Unfortunately, I have had two injuries at work. One required surgery, and one did not. One was significant and really changed the way I approached what seemed like routine, mundane tasks, while the other was just a speed bump in the road we call life. One made me look at how fortunate I had been in my career as an athletic trainer and active individual, and one was more of a nuisance. But both of them, in my opinion, were helped or assisted by my knowledge as an athletic trainer.

The first, more serious injury was a torn right distal bicep tendon. Even though it was hard to do a self-evaluation for this injury, I knew immediately that what I had done was worthy of further diagnostic testing and intervention. To make matters worse, it occurred at the very beginning of the very busy fall season.

However, the biceps injury reinforced that I had an awesome support network at home and work. My wife, who is amazing, my rock, proved again that she is an absolute saint. Being unable to independently shower was a humiliating experience, not because I needed her help, but because I have always considered myself an independent, self-sufficient person. My wife was willing to assist me every day and NEVER complained! It actually made me reflect and reinforce how much I really needed her in my life, not for the care, but for the emotional support, the sounding board, and someone I could share my frustrations with. I would say that the injury made us closer on a different level than the previous 26 years of our marriage.

My co-workers were awesome, as well. I knew they would be. While no one ever wants to get injured on the job, it was unfortunate in that it forced them to work more and pick up some of the slack from the void that my injury presented. They never complained (at least not to me), and we got through it with a different, deeper understanding of everyone’s role. I also think it improved our level and depth of communication because we could not take anything for granted if we wanted to continue to provide the best level of athletic health care that we could.

The second injury was a gastrocnemius strain at the musculotendon junction, and while I had to hobble a little, it didn’t slow me down too much or for too long. It did make me adjust my personal goals as a runner, which was an absolute pain for me. I am a creature of habit, and my morning runs were no longer a possibility. It was at this time that the bike became a bigger part of my workout regimen. While I didn’t realize it at the time of the injury, time away from running actually helped heal some nagging issues that I had as a result of running every day. Since then, I have tried to incorporate more cross training, and it seems to have kept some of the SI inflammation, IT band flare-ups, and shin issues at bay. Amazing what an injury can do for your overall body recovery!

So, through experience, I have learned to listen to my body more, take occasional days off, and change up my workouts all in the name of a healthier, injury-free life. Don’t wait until you have an injury to make some positive changes in your daily routines. Your co-workers, your patients, your body, and your workouts will thank you.

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