ST. LOUIS (AP) A national medical group that represents athletic trainers is calling for more rigorous standards to treat sports-related spine injuries, including the immediate removal of helmets, shoulder pads and other equipment before a patient goes to the hospital.
A treatment protocol last revised in 1998 recommends that equipment worn by athletes with potential spinal cord injuries not be removed on the field or in the locker room. Advances in safety equipment technology are among the reasons cited by the National Athletic Trainers' Association in its updated policy.
The group released its revised guidelines Wednesday at its annual convention in St. Louis. Adherence to the new standards is voluntary.
''One of the common misconceptions is that the emergency department is well-suited to deal with this,'' said Dr. Jim Ellis, associate team physician for the Atlanta Falcons. ''As an emergency physician, I can tell you that's not the case.''
The trainers' association estimates that more than 1,100 spinal cord injuries occur each year due to participation in sports and recreational activities.
Ellis and the other experts, including members of the NCAA, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the American Academy of Family Physicians and 18 other organizations, also advocate that a minimum of three trained rescuers work together to remove equipment from injured athletes with possible spinal cord trauma.
That standard should be easily met by professional teams and colleges with a cadre of athletic trainers, he said. Short-staffed high schools and youth sports' teams could have a more difficult time, Ellis acknowledged, which is why ''coaches need to be part of the medical team.''
The professional association also announced a $2 million expansion of a program with the National Football League to boost the number of athletic trainers in high schools, including in NFL cities.
Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/azagier