Medical Matters: Whole health for young athletes

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Dr. Keith Loud MD

With a distinguished career at the intersection of pediatric medicine and adolescent sports health, Keith Loud, MD, MSc, uses the term “triad” when managing the delicate balance in achieving true “whole health” for young athletes.

“I call this the ‘triad’ as it refers to the athlete, their parents, and the health care provider as the literal team when it comes to ensuring the health and wellbeing of student-athletes,” said Dr. Loud.  “Just like any team, it is vital that all of the players work together for the betterment of the athlete.”

Dr. Loud, who serves as the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Physician-in-Chief of the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), was a high school athletic trainer prior to receiving his medical degree.  Thus, he knows first-hand how important it is to have an athletic trainer on site for athletes to receive proper athletic healthcare.  That is one reason Dr. Loud has served as a consultant and educator for the Safe Sports Network.

Dr. Loud’s educational background and clinical experience have provided him with “a unique perspective on youth sports.” Although he has seen his share of “sports parents” who push their children into sports as an extension of their own past glories, he says that by and large, that portrayal is inaccurate. 

“The vast majority of the parents that I encounter are very well-intentioned and not pushing their kids into things they don’t want to do.”  In fact, noted Dr. Loud, more and more families understand the importance of having their kids take some time off.  However, he feels kids sometimes put pressure on themselves to perform at a high level – even when they are hurt.  “Sometimes you almost have to give permission for young athletes to scale it back a bit.”  Dr. Loud recognizes that this is an important role for athletic trainers can play in the lives of athletes.  Through strong relationships, their athletic trainer can provide guidance to help keep them safer as they reap the benefits of sports.

He is also a strong proponent of young athletes playing multiple sports as opposed to specialization in just one.  “Particularly as kids are growing, focusing on just one sport can lead to overuse or repetitive stress injuries as well as taking the fun out of it. . .which hopefully is why a child chooses a sport in the first place.” This is another area where Safe Sports can help with parent education and injury prevention programs.  When an injury does occur, athletes can utilize the Safe Sports free injury clinic for appropriate evaluation and treatment.

Like many medical professionals managing care during a global pandemic, Dr. Loud is seeing first-hand the emotional impact that some kids are experiencing when their games are interrupted.  “For many kids, athletics are a physical and emotional outlet,” he said.  “And when that goes away – even for a short time – it can have a significant impact on a child.”  Loud credits Safe Sports, which provides on-site athletic trainers at high schools across Southern New Hampshire, for navigating the many issues of COVID-19 as schools returned to play for 2020-2021 school year.  “It’s amazing the amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into this.”

At the end of the day, Dr. Loud says that sports – at any level – are a valuable part of the upbringing of many children.  “Both the physical and competitive nature of a sport is valuable,” he said.  “Particularly in a time where obesity issues are rising among kids and setting them up for significant health risk as they age into adulthood.  It really is one of the best forms of medicine there is.”

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Chris Dugan

Chris Dugan is a regular contributor to Manchester Ink Link and writes the Medical Matters column.