Park City is a worldwide mecca for outdoor winter sports, which also means it has more than its share of sports-related injuries. Fortunately, the wonderful mountain lifestyle enjoyed by Parkites has also attracted some of the best sports medicine professionals in the world. We spoke with a few of the area’s most prominent sport injury experts to learn what they view are the most advanced methods of treating injuries and speeding recovery.
By Annette Velarde
Mountain Top Physical Therapy is Park City’s newest PT office and offers many state-of-the-art features. Perhaps the most impressive is their Swimex® aquatic physical therapy pool, which is a rare find outside of a hospital environment. “Water is an ideal setting for exercise for clients who have difficulty with physical activities due to arthritis, recent injuries, or excessive weight,” said Preston Hall, PT and owner. “Our pool reduces the stress put on injured areas during physical activity tremendously.” For example, a 200-pound person would only weigh 100-pounds in waist-deep water. This reduced weight while exercising in their pool allows for vasodilation of blood vessels. This promotes blood flow to the injury site, and results in an increased oxygen and nutrient supply, which vastly improves the healing process. Further, when patients are moving in water their blood circulation increases, which facilitates decreased swelling in their lower extremities. This, coupled with water’s natural resistance, allows for a much more thorough and beneficial workout. Temperature is a further beneficial aspect of aquatic therapy, which is performed in heated water around 94 degrees. The soothing effects of warm water help muscles and joints to relax and improve blood circulation. This heat is especially beneficial for patients with back muscle pain. “Our patients receive individualized exercise programs that combine aquatic and land therapies,” expanded Hall. “By utilizing both water and land therapy protocols, we have found that our patients achieve incredible results with shorter recovery time.”
The Rosenberg-Cooley-Metcalf Orthopedic Clinic at Park City Medical Center is world renowned for their expertise in orthopedic medicine. Their client list boasts celebrities like Tiger Woods as well as Olympic athletes from all sports. The clinic’s team is consistently leading the way in revolutionary new treatments for musculoskeletal system ailments. Their latest endeavor is completion of a double-blind certified medical study on the use of Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy. “Basically, human blood has three major components: red cells that carry oxygen, white cells that fight infection, and platelets that cause the blood to coagulate when it needs to,” said Dr. Vern Cooley, one of the clinic partners. “We have learned that platelets also contain certain proteins that aid tremendously in healing an injury. A few years ago, portable centrifuge units made it possible to quickly spin a patient’s blood during surgery, separating these three components. The pure platelets plasma has a consistency similar to loose gelatin, and it can be applied into a wound right on the spot.” For example, during an ACL surgery, Dr. Cooley will literally stitch the platelet plasma material into the replacement tendon before attaching it to bone. This nutrient-rich salve is then absorbed by the healing tissue and may reduce recovery time exponentially.
For several years, there has been a medical community discussion concerning whether or not the application of platelet plasma does, in fact, speed healing. Dr. Cooley and his colleagues aim to put this controversy to bed through the formal scientific study they are conducting through their practice. As a collector of data, Dr. Cooley must keep an arm’s length from the studies findings thus far. “Although I am not yet allowed to see the statistical results, I have high expectations that this therapy will prove to be extremely beneficial in reducing surgery recovery time.”
Dr. James Stray-Gundersen, MD, USSA Ski Team physician, has recently brought his globally acclaimed expertise in sports medicine and optimal performance training to Park City through his SG Alter-G Center for Maximal Performance. SG Alter-G is housed within the USSA Center of Excellence training center and an appointment with Stray-Gundersen is about the only way someone without Olympic credentials can get past the receptionist. “Although I have a great deal of experience working with elite athletes, I have a passion for helping any person who is committed to improving their health and reaching their goals. I work with everyone from the severely physically challenged all the way up to Gold Medal winners,” said Stray-Gundersen. To that end, he has specialized in the use of a cutting-edge anti-gravity treadmill called the Alter-G. Zipping a client’s lower half into an air-filled chamber, stress caused by weight and pounding is removed from joints, ligaments, and tendons. The client is then capable of completing a workout that uses the major muscle groups in their legs to raise their heart rate, ignite their nervous system, and produce the all- beneficial endorphin and hormone production that exercise emits. Stray-Gunderson has seen amazing results produced by use of the Alter-G. “Reduction of weight-related stress during exercise makes the impossible recovery an everyday achievement. I have seen a double-knee replacement patient be capable of walking for an hour just days after surgery,” he said. “I have seen an elite marathon runner increase her speed by removing stress from her joints so she could push her nervous system to learn to move her legs faster. Olympic athletes use these machines to continue their training even when they are injured and increase their endurance when they are at their best.” The Alter-G treadmill and Stray-Gundersen’s training advice are available to anyone and can benefit everyone.
Mountain Family Health has long been one of Parkites’ favorites for primary care for the whole family. Doctors Brian Rush and Julie Dolan have made it their business to put patients’ priorities ahead of all other concerns. To that end, they have focused their sports medicine practice on teaching their younger patients how to develop a strong foundation of good health practices. “When we do pre-sport physicals, we take a lot of time to teach these young people about injury prevention, safety precautions, nutrition and sleep. We teach them what good training looks and feels like,” said Rush. “We want our patients to enjoy participation in their favorite sports during their entire lives.”
Dr. Robert Winn, Medical Director for Deer Valley and Canyons ski areas under Intermountain Medical Group, specializes in on-site ski injury triage. The majority of his patients are winter sports enthusiasts vacationing in the Park City area. “These are people who are usually far away from home and their primary care doctor,” said Dr. Winn. “This added stress makes expert handling of their injury all the more crucial.” Winn and his team have gone to great lengths to train the resorts’ ski patrol personnel in on-site triage, safe transport, and emotional support. “The one action a person can take when things go wrong on the hill is to let go of trying to control the situation themselves and trust the medical personnel attending them. These professionals have vast experience in taking care of people who are hurt while participating in outdoor sports and are completely invested in making the right decisions so patients stand the best chance of a complete and speedy recovery.”
Recently, concussion caused by sport participation has been highly visible in the media, particularly with the NFL. This newfound attention is primarily due to a dramatic increase in medical professionals’ knowledge and understanding of the physiological implications of head trauma, as well as the serious problems that arise out of multiple concussion injuries or mismanagement during recuperation. Alpine Sports Medicine has taken the lead in the Park City area in addressing this serious issue. In conjunction with Melinda Roalstad, MS, owner of Think Head First, LLC, (a specialty clinic for management of concussion), Alpine’s goal is to educate participants and coaches about the signs and dangers of mild traumatic brain injuries in sports and provide expertise in appropriate management when a concussion does occur.
Common symptoms of a concussion include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, light and noise sensitivity, and balance problems. Red Flags that warrant immediate medical help are any worsening symptoms despite rest such as severe headache, neck pain, increased confusion, trouble walking or talking, unusual changes in behavior, or repeated vomiting. Since damage from a concussion cannot be seen on imaging, they can easily be missed.
It is important to provide a concussion patient with professional care. “We are experts at evaluating the state of the injury and then providing therapies specifically designed to promote healing. Soft tissue mobilization of the neck increases blood flow to the brain and vestibular therapies address balance and vision issues,” said Karen Procino, PT with Alpine. “Treatment is highly individualized, but always requires time.” Once a patient has experienced a concussion, a trained concussion expert such as Melinda Roalstad should be consulted before returning to the sport. The long-lasting effects of a concussion such as foggy thinking or decreased balance may put the patient at greater risk of a suffering second concussion, which may carry with it permanent neurological damage.
All of the health professionals we interviewed agreed that injury prevention should be every outdoor enthusiast’s top priority. It is far easier to stay healthy than to recover it. But when injuries do occur, always consult a professional as soon as possible. It can make the difference between participating in your chosen sport for a lifetime or saying goodbye to it forever because of pain. There are always new, innovative medical miracles on the horizon that will amaze you.