Hospital for Special Surgery and PSAL Champion Health of High School Football Players

New York—September 12, 2012 

As football season excitement builds, more than 100 high school athletes got a taste of the big leagues, courtesy of Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). Student football players took advantage of an extensive medical screening, called a “combine,” at Special Surgery, the team doctors for the New York Football Giants and other professional sports teams.


Medical clearance is mandatory for all New York City high school students wishing to play football, and 136 students from 30 New York City schools showed up for the health screening on a Saturday in August.

The hospital has teamed up with PSAL, the Public Schools Athletic League, an organization that promotes student athletics in the public schools of New York City.

The program aims to ensure that student athletes are fit to play before the games begin, regardless of ability to pay. During football season, doctors are available to see students at a special weekly clinic at HSS. Program leaders say it’s a win-win situation.

“Meeting a critical need in the community, it gives Hospital for Special Surgery the chance to provide a valuable service,” said Dr. James Kinderknecht, a sports medicine physician and medical director of the Public School Athletic League Football Clinic at the hospital.

More than 20 sports medicine doctors and physical therapists participated in the health screening. They took the students’ medical history; performed a thorough physical exam, checking their heart, lungs and vision; tested strength and flexibility; assessed their posture and balance; even measured how far they could jump.

Doctors also checked the young athletes for previous injuries, giving them advice on how to stay safe on the field and avoid future problems. Some students were prescribed exercises, while others were advised on icing, taping and bracing to prevent further injury.

Students lacking health insurance can fall through the cracks of a fragmented health care system. Special Surgery wants to make sure, at least in the case of the young athletes, that this doesn’t happen, according to John Cavanaugh, PT, ATC, SCS, clinical supervisor, Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.

“In addition to giving the students a complete physical, we check them for any core weaknesses and any deficits in strength and flexibility, so we can help them perform better on the field and enhance safety,” Mr. Cavanaugh said.

Many students said it was exciting to know they were being screened at the same hospital that provides care for elite professional athletes.

For others, the free screening may have meant the difference between playing the sport or sitting on the sidelines. “Some students would not go out for athletics because they don’t have health insurance and could not afford the required pre-season physical,” said Jerry Epstein, PSAL Football Supervisor. “The medical screening at Special Surgery is the best thing I’ve been associated with. I don’t think the students would get an exam this thorough anywhere else. And it gives the kids of New York City the opportunity to have the same doctors who provide care for the New York Giants and the Mets.”

During football season, HSS doctors cover the games at several high schools, and any student who is injured can be seen at a weekly clinic at the hospital. “We are committed to making sure these high school athletes have access to medical care,” Dr. Kinderknecht said.  “We hope no one gets injured, but if they do, it’s a seamless system for them to get an appointment and get evaluated. We communicate with their coaches so they know what’s going on.”

It’s all about safe participation in sports, he added. “Anything we can do to promote activity and exercise is good for the students. The lessons they learn now will carry on into adulthood.”

For more information about the Hospital for Special Surgery/PSAL program visit www.hss.edu/PSAL.

Dr. Kinderknecht has this advice for student athletes playing football:
1. Stay hydrated. Understand that thirst is not a sign you need to drink fluids. Water is adequate but fluids with electrolytes are needed if you exercise over two hours a day. You should follow your weight and start each practice no more than one or two pounds less than what you had weighed at the end of the previous practice. To do this, you will need to take in fluids during, after and before practice.

2. Push yourself during practice, but that does not mean you should go to complete exhaustion. Each individual can get in excellent shape without going to full fatigue.

3. Nutrition is important for recovery. Consume a carbohydrate bar or carbohydrate drink immediately after practice, followed by a meal one to two hours after to help keep your strength and endurance.

4. Make sure all your equipment fits correctly. If you feel your helmet or pads are slipping, you need to talk to your coaches.

5. Always make sure you “see what you hit.” Your head should be up when using proper blocking and tackling technique.

6. Talk to your parents or coaches if you feel you have been injured, especially if you feel that you have had your “bell rung.” There is no such thing as a mild concussion. Most minor injuries to your upper or lower body can remain mild if treated early.

About Hospital for Special Surgery
Founded in 1863, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) is a world leader in orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation. HSS is nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics, No. 3 in rheumatology, No. 10 in neurology, and No. 5 in geriatrics by U.S.News & World Report (2012-13), and is the first hospital in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center three consecutive times. HSS has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. From 2007 to 2011, HSS has been a recipient of the HealthGrades Joint Replacement Excellence Award. HSS is a member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College and as such all Hospital for Special Surgery medical staff are faculty of Weill Cornell. The hospital's research division is internationally recognized as a leader in the investigation of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Hospital for Special Surgery is located in New York City and online at www.hss.edu.
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