Medical Experts Offer Advice For Playing Lacrosse This Spring

Last week, US Lacrosse hosted its latest ‘Return to Play’ webinar, with health and medical experts providing guidance to help the lacrosse community navigate a safe return to the field for the spring season. 

Serving as panelists for the session were Dr. Karen Sutton from the ‎Hospital for Special Surgery and head team physician for the U.S. Women’s National Team; Dr. Andrew Lincoln, director of the MedStar Health Research Institute; Nina Walker, head athletic trainer for the men’s lacrosse team at the University of North Carolina; and Ann Kit Carpenetti, vice president of lacrosse operations at US Lacrosse.

Here’s a link to the full recording:

Some of the key takeaways from the panelists were:

“The data is telling us that playing the sport of lacrosse outside has been very safe,” Sutton said. “We have not seen transmission of the virus while playing outside. What mainly concerns us is transmission that happens outside of the playing field. Carpooling, spectating, sharing food, and lounging together indoors pose greater risks.”

Managing the social culture of lacrosse was one of the main points of emphasis from the panel.

“Some of the things we love about the lacrosse experience are tailgating, seeing friends, and seeing other families, but right now, it’s very important for all of us to hold off on those types of activities because that socialization can actually be more dangerous,” Walker said. “It’s really important that you just spend time with your family unit and not integrate different families together.”

“We’ve come a long way from where we were at the start of the pandemic when we were really concerned about on-field transmission,” Lincoln said. “That turned out to be not-so-much the worry. Now it’s much more about greeting, meeting, and eating together, and what we can do to make sure that it doesn’t happen in a way that puts our kids at risk.”

The panelists stressed the need for all constituents to continue adhering to basic guidelines, as well as to local policies.

“Some states are very rigid in terms of their requirements for mask use, so I think the number one thing is that people should follow their state and county guidelines,” Walker said. “At UNC, we don’t mask during practice, but we do mask as soon as the helmets come off, and when we have a huddle or a meeting. We want to make sure we are protecting from those respiratory droplets. And I can’t stress enough that spectators have masks and keep six feet apart. It’s vital to keep any spreading from happening.”

“If players are wearing masks on the field as they play, it’s important that they don’t retain a lot of moisture,” Sutton said. “It may be important to have a few masks with you in order to change masks if they get full of sweat.”

The panelists also noted the need to have a gradual fazing in of activity to minimize the risk of injury for athletes.

“We’re all excited to be back on the field and so there’s a tendency to throw everyone out there like everyone is in midseason form, but that’s not the case,” Lincoln said. “There needs to be a gradual build up to get back into condition so that we don’t have shin splints or other inflammatory types of conditions. It may take several weeks to work back into shape.”

“Soft tissue injuries and ACLs are going to happen if there has been zero training going into the season,” Walker said. “It’s really important that individuals have a good foundation of linear training – just running ahead – and then working on changing directions. The body has to learn how to react.”

The panel also noted that it may be premature to assume that the COVID-19 vaccine would make a significant impact this spring. 

“What the vaccine does is to help with herd immunity,” Sutton said. “It’s not going to change a lot in the spring season, and maybe the summer. Where we may really see changes is in the fall and winter. The vaccine does take some time to get working. We will also need to have more people with the vaccine before we are going to show true changes.”

Using fun as the main focal point, rather than competitive measures, is important as young athletes return to the field.

“I think the coolest thing for kids is just seeing their friends again,” Sutton said. “As parents, we should take that into perspective. Who scored goals, or even the wins and losses, let’s try to keep that at bay. Let’s just show gratitude for being back on the field.”

“Our goal is to help bring the sport back safely, and to support organizers, coaches, officials, athletes and families with resources and evidence-based information to help navigate the return to the lacrosse field,” Carpenetti said. 

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