March 9, 2014

Gannett Officials, Coaches Say They Are Skeptical Of Athlete Health Study

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Both Cornell athletics coaches and Gannett officials say they are skeptical of the findings of a study, which concluded that Division I athletes may face higher physical limitations and chronic injuries by the time they reach middle age.

The study, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in December, examined non-collegiate athletes who participated in recreational, club or intramural sports and Division I athletes between the ages of 40 and 65. Researchers required both groups to answer questionnaires about physical functioning, sleep, anxiety, fatigue, pain and depression.

The researchers concluded that Division I athletes were more than twice as likely to suffer from a variety of health-related issues, including chronic injuries and osteoarthritis, later in life.

Susan Geisler, a physical therapist and supervisor of physical therapy at Gannett Health Services, said she is wary of extrapolating the results to all current Division I collegiate athletes due to the older age of the studied population.

She said it would be erroneous to make generalizations because sports medicine care has changed “dramatically” since the subjects of the study competed in college athletics during the 1970s and 1980s.

Medical knowledge of joint injuries — especially the knee, shoulder and hip — have made sweeping improvements in past few decades, according to Geisler.

Additionally, detection among young athletes is more common than in prior years when many joint injuries went unnoticed joint injuries went unnoticed.

“Athletic trainers today, along with all sports’ medicine health care providers, are more informed than we were in the late 70’s and early 80’s,” she said.

David Archer ’05, head coach of Cornell’s football team, also said he does not believe an accurate correlation can be drawn between the finding of the study and the future health of Cornell varsity athletes.

“People are more conscious of taking care of themselves,” Archer said. “Even from when I was a player for Cornell, there is more of a focus on off season conditioning and player safety.”

Archer also said it is difficult to make any conclusions based on the results of Indiana University’s study since health issues are largely dependent upon the kind of healthy lifestyles that individuals choose to pursue.

Cornell women’s varsity lacrosse players Jessica Schwab ’16 and Olivia Mattyasovszky ’16, however, said they were not surprised by the study’s discoveries.

“It’s easy to see the signs of such intense physical activity impacting day-to-day movements,” Mattyasovszky said. “It’s just a lot of strain on your joints and obviously that strain will show up later in life.”

Schwab said she anticipates to have long-term physical issues after exerting herself at high-levels of physical activity throughout her college career.

“Right now [the team] gets pain basically every week after practice and the workouts we do … You just know that after four years, you’re going to have these problems doing normal activities,” Schwab said. “I’m expecting when I’m 50 to have back and knee problems.”

Although Cornell athletic officials said they consider athlete health and safety as a top priority, Schwab said athletes should make sure they are getting the treatment they need before and after workouts, such as routine icing and physical therapy, to prevent future injury.

To ensure that current college athletes do not experience physical limitations later in life, Geisler said she encourages students to maintain active lifestyles after graduating from Cornell’s varsity-level athletic organizations.