Student Athletes & Broken Bones

The beginning of fall means a new school year and the start of fall sports. And that also means athletes need to be prepared for the possibility of an injury.

Samantha Morgan, a Penn Highlands Healthcare certified-athletic-trainer who works in the Clearfield Area School District, said broken bones are becoming more prominent in student athletes. The Rehabilitation Center of Penn Highlands Healthcare has athletic trainers who work in several school districts, including the DuBois Area, St. Marys Area, Brookville Area, Brockway Area and Elk County Catholic, along with Penn State DuBois.

Morgan said this could be because more kids are playing only one sport which puts more stress on the same muscles and bones over-and-over. This can lead to imbalances and an increase in injuries. “We are not getting multi-sport athletes anymore,” she said, “and seeing more catastrophic injuries. Those situations can go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye if not treated properly.”

Broken bones can be stress fractures, identified by the pain during active use, or they can be breaks that show as a deformity or show up with use of a tuning fork, ultrasound or eventually, an x-ray or CT scan.

When treating a broken bone you should:
Stop any bleeding: If they’re bleeding, elevate and apply pressure to the wound using a sterile bandage, a clean cloth or a clean piece of clothing.
Immobilize the injured area: If you suspect they’ve broken a bone in the neck or back, help them stay as still as possible. If you suspect they’ve broken a bone in one of their limbs, immobilize the area using a splint or sling.
Apply cold to the area: Wrap an ice pack or bag of ice cubes in a piece of cloth and apply it to the injured area for up to 10 minutes at a time.
Treat for shock: Help them get into a comfortable position, encourage them to rest and reassure them. Cover them with a blanket or clothing to keep them warm.
Get professional help: Call 911 to go to the nearest emergency department for professional care.

For athletes where there are athletic trainers nearby, they have an advantage. Morgan describes an athletic trainer as the first line of defense when an athlete is injured. They have to be ready to make decisions quickly.

“We are the first people on the scene if something happens at an athletic event,” she said. “We are the ones to decide if play can continue for that person or if we need to refer to a physician. We take care of everything.”

Morgan said athletic trainers work closely with a licensed physician. “They don’t stand beside us and watch, but we do communicate with them,” she said, giving the example of a student with a sprained ankle and how she would contact the doctor to set up an x-ray and decide if more intervention is needed.

“The doctor might then write a script for therapy or order a brace,” she said. “Then the student starts physical therapy and I do stuff with him as well at the school. It’s basically two PTs in one, a more aggressive treatment than a normal person would get. A normal person would go two or three times a week to physical therapy and that’s it. An athlete gets it every single day.”

Morgan said you want to get an athlete back as quickly and safely as possible.

Educating the athletes about injury prevention is also important. Morgan said this occurs every day.

“They need to understand what is going on with their bodies so they know what they can and can’t handle, what is safe and what is not safe,” she said. “There is a huge difference between being sore and being in pain.”

Morgan said a person can continue to do things because they are sore. “That is your body adapting to activity,” she said. “If you are in pain, that means something is not correct and we need to do something to fix the dysfunction.”

That means giving the student an anatomy lesson and ways to fix it. An athletic trainer does things to correct the problem and shows athletes things they can do on their own. “They need to be held accountable,” she said. “Just because you pulled your hamstring doesn’t mean you can’t stretch it on your own.”

An athletic trainer shows them how to do their own “home therapy” in addition to what they do.

“Sometimes one thing doesn’t work for one person but something else will work,” she said. “Everything is customized to that individual person. I could have five people with an ankle sprain and will treat them five completely different ways. There are some things you would do no matter what but everybody is different and they need to understand that.”

Morgan said student athletes are more likely to do what you ask if they understand why you are asking them to do something.

“Kids are curious, they want to know,” she said. “Teach them and you will get a better result in the end.”

To learn more about therapies at Penn Highlands Healthcare, go to