HOUGHTON - When athletes are pushing their bodies to the limit - often while flying toward other athletes doing the same - many things can go wrong.
"I see a lot of different things," said Brian Brewster, coordinator of sports medicine for the Portage Health Sports Medicine Institute. "I see everything from the common cold to a spine injury or ACL or something like that."
The biggest health risks for athletes this time of year are heat-related injuries.
Brewster suggests athletes weigh themself before and after practice. It should take two 24-ounce glasses of water to replenish the water weight lost during a two-hour practice; a sports drink of the athlete's choice is also recommended.
"When you sweat, you lose water, but you also lose electrolytes," Brewster said.
Contact sports such as football can also result in concussions, which can result in symptoms such as nausea, double vision and headaches. The period immediately after a concussion is a ripe one for repeat concussions, which can lead to brain damage, and in rare cases, death.
"They should recognize the symptoms, so if it does comes back, they can recognize them and get them treated properly," Brewster said.
Within the past year, Brewster has seen six to seven concussions at Michigan Technological University, two or three of which required holding athletes out for two weeks.
An encouraging trend is the introduction of IMPACT testing machines, two of which were recently purchased by Houghton High School and Hancock Central High School. The machines, also used in professional hockey and baseball, are used to measure the baseline level for athletes' cognitive function.
If the trainers suspect an athlete has sustained a concussion, they'll send them to a doctor; 24 to 48 hours after the incident, they'll take the test and check it against the previous level.
"You can compare the numbers, the statistics, to see if they're back to normal," Brewster said.
No injuries are especially common to particular age groups, but Brewster said younger children playing among older children may be more at risk due to their less-developed musculature.
Ankle injuries are common. To prevent those, Brewster said athletes work on strengthening and balancing exercises. These can include standing on one leg, including on non-level surfaces such as a pillow or couch cushion.
Brewster's encouraged by the number of high schools locally that have athletic trainers at their games. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, only 42 percent of high schools nationwide have access to athletic trainers.
"I think you start with your youth ... you want to protect your kids as much as you want to protect a guy that's worth $5 million," he said.
Portage holds a walk-in sports clinic at the Student Development Center on MacInnes Drive each Monday night from 4 p.m. to 5:30. They see anywhere from five to 20 athletes per day, Brewster said, some coming from as far away as Ontonagon and Baraga.
"We've sent 10 kids down from Tech just for that in a day," Brewster said.
If necessary, Brewster said, they'll refer the athletes who come in to the clinic so they can get a more in-depth treatment quickly.
"That's what athletic trainers do," he said. "We're the first people on the field if someone gets hurt, and determine if they need to go to the doctor, or get to an ambulance, and get X-rays."
For more information, call the Portage Health Sports Medicine Institute at 483-1825.