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College athletes putting themselves at risk for long-term health problems

MAYWOOD, Ill. (Feb. 10, 2014) -  College athletes are putting themselves at risk for health problems that could persist long after they graduate, warns Loyola University Medical Center sports medicine physician Dr. Pietro Tonino.

“Parents who push their children to specialize in one sport and train extensively in order to win athletic scholarships should be aware there could be long-term health consequences,” Tonino said.

Tonino cites a recent study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers at Indiana University surveyed two groups of middle-aged college graduates. A group of former Division I athletes was compared with nonathletes who participated in recreational activities, club sports or intramurals during college. (Tonino was not involved in the study.)

The former athletes reported worse physical function, depression, fatigue, sleep disturbances and pain interference than nonathletes. The athletes also reported more limitations in daily activities and more major and chronic injuries.

Tonino noted that a group of Northwestern University football players recently launched an effort to unionize college athletes. Among the goals of the College Athletes Players Association is to obtain guaranteed coverage for sports-related medical expenses for current and former players. The association also wants to minimize the risk of sports-related traumatic brain injury.

Tonino said improvements in equipment and playing surfaces have reduced the risk of injuries to college athletes. Recent rule changes also are designed to make sports safer.

“We should continue to explore new ways to make college sports as safe and as injury-free as possible,” Tonino said.

Tonino is an orthopaedic surgeon who has performed thousands of surgeries on injured athletes. He is program director of Sports Medicine and a professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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