February 13, 2020

Helping aging athletes stay at the top of their game

Stepping onto athletic fields and courts can be a frustrating experience for people as they age. Years of wear and tear on joints, tendons and muscles can make continuing to participate in sports unpleasant or even unfeasible for many older athletes.

That’s why a team of UW Health athletic trainers, physical therapists and physicians launched the Athlete Preservation Clinic. The clinic is designed to help aging athletes overcome injuries, stay active in their sport and delay or even prevent surgical interventions.

“We all recognize the importance of maintaining activity levels and being physically active – as well as the social benefits that go along with being involved in recreational sport – but there just wasn’t much help available for the type of person who might not be sure whether continuing to participate in their sport was safe for them,” said Michael VanVeghel, LAT, a UW Health athletic trainer who helped found the clinic.

UW Health already has programs in place to help younger, competitive athletes, as well as specialized clinics for people of all ages who want to keep their bodies primed for running or golf.

The Athlete Preservation Clinic, however, aims to fill gaps for adults who participate in other sports by providing a more tailored approach to preparing their body for their sport. That approach goes well beyond simple home exercises. Instead, the new clinic is about getting peoples’ bodies back to a point where they can tolerate higher levels of exercise – whether that be through hiking, recreational basketball or any number of other sports.

“We’re keeping things open-ended as we start this clinic,” VanVeghel said.

Just as it’s designed to accommodate a wide range of sports, VanVeghel says the Athlete Preservation Clinic is open to anybody experiencing aging-related impediments — regardless of actual age.

“For most people, if they’ve had a knee injury in their high school or college years, arthritis can show up in their early 30s and we’ll for sure see it in their 40s,” VanVeghel said. “This clinic was created with people in their 40s and 50s in mind, but it’s also for people in their 30s and 60s.”

What to expect at the Athlete Preservation Clinic

VanVeghel says the clinic’s staff begin by going over the clients’ history, seeking answers as to what they hope to achieve, what their limitations might be and what’s kept them from participating in activities in the past.

Clients will then be guided through exercises that improve their general movement skills, eventually tying in specific sport movement analysis for whichever sport the client participates in.

UW Health at The American Center also offers clients the opportunity to work with athletic trainers and physical therapists who are equipped with high-tech evaluation equipment, including multi-angle video equipment and force plates, which can help identify problematic and asymmetrical movements.

“We have an amazing facility here that we can expose people to different training techniques, and some of the evaluation skills and tools that we have will help people go above and beyond simple home exercises,” VanVeghel said.