Integrating Athletic Trainers in Esports Healthcare

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Integrating Athletic Trainers in Esports Healthcare

This article discusses the integration of athletic trainers (ATs) into the healthcare teams of esports athletes (ATs are healthcare professionals who specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions related to sports and physical activity). Athletic trainers play a crucial role in the overall health and well-being of student-athletes and are often an integral part of the sports medicine team at colleges and universities.

This article presents findings from a survey study conducted to understand the perspectives of ATs regarding their role in esports healthcare. The study aimed to identify the primary duties of ATs in the esports healthcare team and explore how ATs with no prior experience in esports felt about incorporating their services into the world of competitive gaming.

One of the key factors identified as a hurdle to integration, as you’ll see in our review, is a belief that esports are not sports, and esports competitors are not athletes. EHPI’s position is that while there’s value in determining what is and isn’t a sport for regulatory and grant purposes, physical medicine and rehabilitation professionals should focus on the far more important fact that we are uniquely equipped to support individuals facing unique physical performance demands.

-EHPI Staff Note

Context

Esports athletes may experience physical demands and risks comparable to traditional athletes, such as high actions per minute and postural endurance demands, which can lead to overuse injuries. ATs can offer pre-season ergonomic evaluations, preventive measures, and acute/chronic injury care to esports athletes.

Key Findings:

  • ATs can play a crucial role in preventing, evaluating, and treating various musculoskeletal injuries and conditions that esports athletes commonly face. These include strains, neural entrapments, posture-related injuries in the back and neck, tendon issues in the hand, forearm, and elbow, among others.
  • ATs are divided on whether esport athletes should receive athletic training services.
  • Negative sentiments primarily revolving around doubts regarding the relevance of athletic trainers in esports, concerns about resource allocation, and perceptions of esports as not fitting the traditional athlete model.
  • These sentiments highlight the need for advocacy and education to promote the integration of athletic trainers into esports healthcare.
  • There were only 13 out of 151 respondents who worked currently with the school’s esports team showcasing a stark lack of utilization in collegiate esports setting of athletic training.

Perspectives of Athletic Trainers:

  • The survey revealed a diverse range of sentiments among ATs regarding esports integration.
  • 34.8% of respondents expressed a positive sentiment, showing an openness to include esports in their scope of practice.
  • 25.3% expressed a neutral sentiment, reflecting a lack of understanding about esports.
  • 39.9% reported a negative sentiment, indicating a rather concerning resistance or aversion to incorporating esports into their practice.
  • Younger ATs with less time in the profession tended to have a more positive sentiment toward esports integration while older athletic trainers with more time in the profession are more resistant to providing quality medical care to this population.

Barriers and Concerns:

  • Barriers preventing esports athletes from seeking the help of ATs included feelings of not being considered traditional athletes, a lack of knowledge about AT roles, and poor self-confidence.
  • Some ATs expressed concerns about esports athletes’ sedentary lifestyle, overwork, and the perception that esports is not a “real” sport.
  • Many ATs felt that esports would require additional resources and staff, potentially straining their existing workloads.

The negative attitudes expressed by some athletic trainers are a cause for concern. When medical professionals hired to provide healthcare to players openly dismiss the musculoskeletal needs and risks faced by esports players, it actively reduces the likelihood that players will seek assistance when experiencing pain. This could potentially lead to the development of chronic musculoskeletal impairments.

-EHPI Staff Note

Implications and Future Research:

  • The study emphasizes that esports athletes are an emerging patient population susceptible to various pathologies, making them deserving of AT services.
  • It suggests the need for more education within the athletic training profession regarding the unique healthcare needs of esports athletes.
  • Future research should focus on replicating the study with a larger sample of ATs experienced in esports and identify the content validity index of open-ended questions.
  • Research should also explore interventions for injury care and prevention in esports athletes.

Conclusion: The article concludes that ATs have the skills necessary to provide meaningful healthcare to esports athletes, given the injuries and conditions they often face. While there are varying sentiments among ATs about esports integration, the study highlights the importance of patient advocacy to promote the inclusion of ATs in esports healthcare. Further dissemination of information on esports activity is necessary to facilitate adequate care for this unique athlete population.

This information is valuable for healthcare professionals looking to understand the potential role of athletic trainers in esports and for esports management seeking to enhance the health and well-being of their athletes.

Here are some ways we would suggest ATs advocate for better care:

  1. Educate Fellow Athletic Trainers:
    • Promote awareness within the athletic training profession about the unique healthcare needs of esports athletes. Share findings from the study and emphasize the role ATs can play in enhancing esports athlete well-being.
  2. Highlight Musculoskeletal Challenges:
    • Emphasize the musculoskeletal challenges that esports athletes face, including nerve impingements, postural syndromes, neck/ back pain, and tendinopathies. Provide examples of how ATs can address these issues through prevention, assessment, and treatment.
  3. Ergonomic Evaluations:
    • Stress the importance of ergonomic evaluations to optimize esports athletes’ gaming setups. ATs can offer guidance on chair ergonomics, monitor placement, keyboard and mouse positioning, and other factors to reduce the risk of injury.
  4. Preventive Measures:
    • Advocate for the implementation of preventive measures specific to esports, such as warm-up routines, postural strengthening programs, stretching exercises, and eye strain reduction strategies. These measures can help esports athletes stay healthy and perform at their best.
  5. Acute and Chronic Injury Care:
    • Highlight ATs’ expertise in providing acute and chronic injury care. Explain how ATs can promptly address injuries like tendinopathies or neural entrapments to ensure a faster and safer recovery.
  6. Foster Inclusivity:
    • Promote the idea of inclusivity in healthcare. Emphasize that esports athletes, like traditional athletes, deserve access to quality healthcare services. Encourage the view that athletic trainers can increase their value by treating a diverse range of athletes.
  7. Collaborative Approach:
    • Advocate for a collaborative approach to esports healthcare. ATs can work in tandem with other healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists, sports psychologists, and dieticians, to ensure comprehensive care tailored to the needs of esports athletes.
  8. Mental Health Focus:
    • Highlight the importance of mental health support in esports. Suggest that ATs can play a role in addressing and screening for mental health challenges, such as stress and performance anxiety, to enhance overall athlete well-being.
  9. Engage with Esports Management:
    • Initiate discussions with esports management and organizations. Present the potential benefits of integrating ATs into esports healthcare teams, including improved athlete performance and reduced injury rates.
  10. Advocate for Resources:
    • Acknowledge the potential resource constraints but advocate for allocating the necessary resources, including staff and funding, to support esports healthcare. Emphasize that esports’ growth warrants investment in athlete well-being.
  11. Professional Development:
    • Encourage ongoing professional development for ATs in the field of esports healthcare. Highlight the need for ATs to stay updated on the latest developments in esports-related injuries and treatment modalities. Advocate for governing bodies such as the BOC and NATA to develop practice advancement initiatives for this niche population.
  12. Research and Data Collection:
    • Promote further research in esports healthcare. Stress the importance of collecting data on injuries and healthcare needs specific to esports athletes to inform evidence-based practices.

By addressing these action items, athletic trainers can effectively advocate for the provision of healthcare services to esports athletes and contribute to the overall health and performance of this emerging athlete population.

Citation

Wood, T. A., Grahovec, N. E., & Sanfilippo, C. M. (2023). Integrating Athletic Trainers in Esports Healthcare. International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training (published online ahead of print 2023). Retrieved Sep 23, 2023, from https://doi.org/10.1123/ijatt.2022-0132

Additional Resources

For more specific insights into how athletic trainers can support esports teams check out this content access pass article.

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Dr. Jennifer Thai

Nutrition

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