Choosing the Right Medical Pathway (Athletic Injuries)

By Vincent Hudson PhD, DPT, MBA, ATC

Any challenge for the coach, parent and athlete following an injury is to attain proper information to help all involved come to a clear and concise plan of care.

To accomplish this, there must be a prepared pathway predetermined before an injury occurs. Once this pathway is developed, those in charge must be aware of the options and resources available to them in developing plan of care. Many of the initial challenges regarding athletic injury include well-wishers and non-medical staff making medical pathway decisions that create more roadblocks, and slow down the process of the athlete attaining the correct medical care.

The two most important aspects in attaining a pathway include 1) having the athlete evaluated by the specialist as soon as possible, and 2) having that specialist provide a diagnosis and initiate a plan of care. Many times the general population doesn’t understand the process of diagnosis. Most diagnoses are fairly simple. Example ankle sprain – athlete injures ankle, sees a physician, athlete physically evaluated, x-rays taken, diagnosed with an ankle sprain, treated by athletic trainer or physical therapist, athlete returns to play. This scenario occurs hundreds of times each day. But why the x-ray, or any other diagnostic test? Most diagnostic tests, x-ray, MRI, CT Scan, blood work, etc are performed to clarify and support a diagnosis, and/or rule out a prevailing more severe diagnosis.

The key to all of this is selecting the physician who knows what they are doing in this area of injury. One would not want an OB-GYN evaluating a sprained ankle, or an orthopedic surgeon evaluating a skin infection. This miscalculation can prolong reaching a proper diagnosis, and extend the athlete’s return to play while adding unnecessary cost and time due to errors in judgment due to the lack of expertise in a medical area. Nothing is more frustrating to the motivated athlete than sitting idle because the plan of care is not working. This scenario is primarily due to a misdiagnosis, which lead to a faulty plan of care, where the treatment was not actually addressing the true problem.

The ultimate goal of the team physician and athletic trainer is to get the athlete to the proper specialist to attain the correct diagnosis and apply the correct plan of care and receiving proper treatment. This will allow the athlete to safely return to play as soon as medically able.


Vincent Hudson, PhD, DPT, ATC is a certified athletic trainer and a licensed physical therapist with 27 years of clinical and operational experience in the area of sports medicine. He has been employed at colleges in the Division I, II and III levels as well as the NBA and NFL. He currently is the Chief Operating Officer at OAA Orthopaedic Specialists in Allentown, PA.


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