Keeping  Hawkeyes Healthy - UI Sports Medicine director celebrates first year in new facility

Ned Amendola, director of the University of Iowa Sports Medicine Center, became interested in his field while playing collegiate football at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Although he was studying engineering at the time, the team physician suggested he switch to medicine so he could eventually pursue orthopaedics.

Amendola took that advice, completed orthopaedics training in Canada, and made his mark on the world of sports medicine. Internationally known for arthroscopic surgery, particularly knee and ankle reconstruction, he has served as team physician for the Canadian National Rugby Team, consultant to the Toronto Raptors and the National Hockey League Players Association, and head physician for athletic teams at the University of Western Ontario.

Today Amendola is head team physician for all of Hawkeye athletics and a professor in the UI Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Carver College of Medicine. In June 2009, he was named the Kim and John Callaghan Endowed Chair in Sports Medicine.

In fall 2009, a new UI Sports Medicine Center opened on the west side of campus as part of the UI Institute for Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine, and Rehabilitation. The state-of-the-art facility houses Amendola and his team—some of Iowa’s finest sports medicine specialists—who are accessible to everyone from casual exercisers to student athletes.

Amendola talked with Spectator@IOWA about the importance of moderation in preventing injury, how to tell if someone is “playing through the pain,” and how he and his team take care of all those Hawkeye student athletes.

The Sports Medicine Center opened its doors in 2009, offering a new sports medicine option for the entire state. How does this benefit the general public?

You can look at sports medicine as a driving force for optimizing treatment of musculoskeletal injuries that occur during participation in sports as well as activities of daily living. Because athletes, coaches, and the public want athletes to return to play optimally and as quickly as possible, it drives this specialty to do the best we can in terms of early diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation so that patients can go back to full-time participation without risk of further injury. As a result, when the public comes in, they receive the same treatment our athletes benefit from.
How has the new facility changed the way you and your team do your jobs?

The facility has brought all of the people who used to be spread throughout the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics main campus together under the same roof. This type of collaboration and proximity allows better communication, provides seamless treatment for our patients and athletes, and improves everything we do. Athletes and patients have a one-stop shop where they can see all of the professionals and get everything they need to treat their problem.
Sports medicine seems to be an ever-expanding field. What are some emerging topics?

We’re trying to prevent problems like ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries, shoulder instability, and back and spinal injuries by appropriate conditioning and preparation for sports. When it comes to treating these injuries, we’re making sure we recreate normal anatomy and joint function, and don’t complicate injuries by aggravating them with poor surgery or poor rehabilitation.

One area that has received a lot of recent media attention is concussions and head injuries. The NFL, the NCAA, and the Big Ten are very concerned about recurrent head injuries and the chronic effect of brain trauma later in life. We are very careful in diagnosing these injuries, allowing concussions to recover completely before permitting athletes to return to their sports.
You’re the head team physician for the Hawkeye athletic teams. What does that entail?

As the head team physician, I supervise and coordinate the athletic care of all of the teams. We have a number of physicians, orthopaedic surgeons, and athletic trainers who work with all of the teams and are also assigned to specific teams. My role is to ensure that we have a very high level of athletic care for all teams, regardless of their status on campus.

All of the teams get the same attention in terms of preparation, team coverage, management of injuries, and return to sport. I think we have a unique situation at The University of Iowa because we have a very close relationship between the Department of Athletics, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and the Sports Medicine Center. We have consultants available to provide immediate access and provision of optimal care for all teams and athletes.
Do you have ways to determine if student athletes are “playing through the pain” and not telling you about it?

One of the main issues that team physicians have to deal with is an athlete who has pain or injuries but can play through the pain and participate. Generally speaking, the athlete is the best source of information for deciding what to do. If athletes have pain that prevents them from moving normally and participating in normal function of the sport, they will usually tell you. If they don’t tell you, it’s apparent when you assess them on a functional level. If that’s the case, they will not be allowed to play.

Obviously, some aches and pains are prevalent in sport, and if they don't affect an athlete’s function—they can move normally, they can protect themselves, and there is not risk of injury—we will let them play. But, the bottom line is we will not let athletes play if there is any significant risk to aggravating their injury or suffering a new injury.

What’s the best advice you can give someone so they can stay healthy and not have to see you?

Generally speaking, I think moderation is the best advice. You should maintain a moderate activity level, whatever that is, with some daily exercise. Maintain a healthy weight and balanced diet because that helps overall function, decreases risk of general systemic diseases, and keeps muscles in shape, which keeps the joints functioning well.

For athletes, I think it’s important to not over-train. Look at a balanced program to maintain good core muscle function so when you do stress the body with, say, long distance running or an aggressive sport like basketball or football, your joints are able to tolerate that activity because you’ve prepared them well.

Kelli Andresen
photo by Kirk Murray

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© The University of Iowa 2009