Memorial Hermann’s Outreach Athletic Trainer, Dr. James “Bubba” Wilson attributes the growth of the industry to the interest of the doctors, who are former athletes themselves in some cases.
“It’s a good way to continue that first love of sports and that second love of medicine,” Wilson said.
Pearland has a strong sports medicine presence between Memorial Hermann, Kelsey-Seybold and Houston Methodist, all of which have sports medicine care on campuses.
Memorial Hermann also has a partnership with Pearland ISD to provide sports medicine care at the district. This is necessary, as many sports medicine patients are middle and high school athletes, experts said.
“A lot of injuries occur during a game. If you specialize, there you have a better idea of what is better [for the patient] and what is not,” Pearland High School Physician Dr. Evan Meeks said.
The need for sports medicine
The sports medicine field, which treats sports- and athletics-related injuries, has grown over the last decade, said Wilson. However, sports medicine is still defined as an emerging trend, Wilson said.
According to data from Kelsey Seybold, sports medicine visits to Kelsey-Seybold’s Pearland campus—which opened in April 2016—have increased from 4.7% in 2018 to 10.3% in 2019 so far. The practice is often paired with orthopedics—or a focus on muscles and bones—as many medical students interested in the field will do a residency in orthopedics and then do a fellowship, or specialty in sports medicine, Wilson said.
“A lot of people do residency in orthopedics and then do a fellowship in sports medicine. All kinds of subspecialties now with sports medicine being one of those,” Wilson said.
One of the benefits of the sports medicine practice can potentially provides a higher level of expertise than a general physician, Meeks said.
“Most physicians would be able to diagnose an ankle or knee sprain but may not be able to see if it is a mild one or is severe and to tell what to tell athletes, to have them keep playing or to hold them out,” Meeks said. “That special sports medicine training helps you with that part of that.”
Sports medicine in Pearland
The dream for most sports medicine doctors is to work at a high school practicing sports medicine, Wilson said.
“That’s the goal. If you are going to be sports medicine trained, you understand you are going to be attached to a school district depending on the type of a sports medicine,” Wilson said.
One-third of childhood injuries are caused by sports, according to data from Stanford Children’s Health. Up until age 14, most sports-related injuries are caused in football, according to the same data set. The district has a big presence both for high school sports and for medicine, Wilson said.
“It’s very competitive. Not just in the athletics side, but also a site-based partner for health occupations,” Wilson said.
Memorial Hermann partners the University of Texas for its sports medicine programs. The decision to grow Memorial Hermann’s sports medicine center at the Pearland campus off Hwy. 288 and at Pearland ISD was a conscious and important decision, Wilson said.
“Pearland itself is landlocked. Look at Alvin ISD, Fort Bend ISD, Angleton ISD and Lake Jackson ISD. Alvin ISD is one of the biggest land masses for school districts in Texas,” Wilson said.
Because of the number of school districts in the area, the hospital is perfectly situated, especially for sports medicine, Wilson said. The growth of the area also makes Pearland an ideal choice for a sports medicine center, said John Lyle, Kelsey-Seybold’s vice president of operations.
“Certainly as the population of Pearland continues to grow there is not only sports-related to junior high and high school, but also other clubs or tournaments that are being hosted in the Pearland community,” Lyle said.
High school athletes
For sports medicine doctors, the interest could be borne out of an earlier interest in sports. This was the case for Meeks, who played college football at Rice University before going to medical school and becoming a sports medicine doctor.
“It’s a wonderful way for us ex-athletes to stay involved in athletics when we are past our prime. We still get that exposure,” Meeks said.
With the interest in sports, many sports medicine physicians end up treating high school and middle school athletes.
“That is their wheelhouse,” Wilson said.
Common treatments in the sports medicine field include ACL tears, unstable shoulders and ankle injuries, Wilson.
At Alvin ISD, jammed fingers are also a common injury. AISD has a sports medicine partnership with Houston Methodist, which is great for the district, said Cody Wade, head athletic trainer for Shadow Creek Ranch High School.
“What that does is allows us to have a foot in the door at Methodist hospitals and get them in to see the doctors sometimes quicker than you would if they are just going to their own doctor,” Wade said.
While these are common injuries for adolescent athletes, the clientele is not limited to that. Sports medicine doctors can also see adult athletes as well as the teachers, for those that work at school districts, experts said.
“We try to be involved with employee wellness,” Wilson said.
At the high school level, there are several different types of sports medicine presence, Meeks said. There are physicians on the sidelines at football games, as well as ones students can visit at the school for checkups. Meeks sees students both during games as well as later at a checkup.
“Outside of a game time, that is when we are trying to decide on the more serious injuries. We are helping to give them guidance on what to expect on recovery,” Meeks said.
AISD does have doctors on the sidelines at games, but is focused primarily on prevention, with athletic trainers and physical therapists.
“As athletic trainers, we are trying to prevent those preventable injuries from happening,” Wade said.
Often students are also sent off to a specialist, depending on what the injury is, particularly if it is a concussion, Meeks said.
Concussions are detected more often today than a decade ago, Meeks said.
“Just in the past 5-10 years, we are seeing more concussions because we are looking for them. We used to not be looking for them. We diagnose those now because we think they are important,” Meeks said.
While concussions can be caused by sports injuries, students with those are typically seen by a neurologist.
No matter the type of injury, sports medicine doctors want to find the balance between healing and athletic experience.
“One of the biggest things is that kids always think we are there to hold them out and we’re not,” Wade said. “We’re there to get them back out to play as quickly as we can, just safely.”