Atrium Health sports medicine specialists weigh in on the return to sports

Atrium Health sports medicine specialists weigh in on the return to sports
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association postponed the start of practice and competition for high school sports in the 2020-2021 school year. (Source: wbtv)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) -The North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced a delay in return to practice and competition for high school sports in North Carolina this school year.

WBTV spoke with Sports Medicine Specialists at Atrium Health about the concerns of returning to sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a Tuesday night Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board of Education meeting, several parents spoke during the public comment portion of the virtual meeting to express their concerns about canceling or postponing high school sports this school year.

“I have talked to parents and kids who are just in a bad spot. And being in church, I’ve had to talk with these kids and they just want something to grasp a hold to,” Father of a CMS student-athlete Jeff Taylor said.

“We are currently allowed to workout, observing social distancing and health guidelines, we should really start it immediately. I think a lot of us parents and particularly of teenagers, are really struggling with idle time,” Nadija Golden said.

Many parents who spoke during the meeting pointed to concerns over mental health if sports are canceled or postponed.

“There was a study out of the University of Wisconsin looking at rates of depression or anxiety. And we do know that they are elevated at this time vs. when they were taken previously. So, we know that it is affecting some of the psychological effects of these athletes,” Dr. Kevin Burroughs, Primary Care Sports Medicine at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute said. “We would love to have them back playing at that’s where the high school athletic association allowed for some to return to workouts, that allowed some of those individuals at least get back to being active to some degree. But return to competition, that’s where the concerns fall right now.”

Wednesday, the NCHSAA postponed the start of practice and competition for sports in the 2020-2021 school year. Each sport had varying start dates.

Dr. Burroughs says the return to sports may not be a one-size-fits-all solution because each sport has varying risk of transmission of COVID-19. For example, golf poses fewer risks than a contact sport like football.

“How is it going to be safe and will it be safe for everyone or will there be unique situations for each individual sport,” Dr. Burroughs said. “You may say, Cross Country sounds good because it spreads out on the course, but the start is the big challenge because you have a lot of people there together getting off at the same time.”

When student-athletes return to practice and competition, Dr. Burroughs says preventing transmission within the team depends on what safety precautions athletes, coaches, and others close to the team are taking outside of practice and games.

“Whenever you’re all together, you’re going to be close and if there is a chance of transmission it’s going to be there. But it’s what do you do outside, and if you’re not bring it to the team or to the table, you’ve got a lot less transmission to the team,” Dr. Burroughs said. “What we’re seeing from the NBA and some of the other professional sports, the ones that can maintain a bubble so to speak of those athletic endeavors, is really where were trying to stop transmission from it a sports perspective.”

If a student-athlete recovers from COVID-19, Dr. Burroughs says they should be evaluated by a primary care physician before returning to their sport. Researchers are still learning about long-term effects of the virus, but myocarditis or inflammation of the heart appears to be one concern.

“If you exercise with myocarditis, that’s a very bad thing to do. Because exercise causes an increase in the viral replication, it increases the scar of the heart, and it makes you more prone to abnormal and dangerous rhythms,” Atrium Health Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute’s Director of Sports Cardiology Dr. Dermot Phelan told WBTV in May.

The NCHSAA issued a 1-year-extension for student-athletes who received a valid sports physical last school year.

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