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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Editorial: Democratize access to athletic training facilities, health and safety resources

Deep within the first floor of the Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center lies the Mugar Sports Medicine Suite, which houses two services: Tufts Sports Medicine and physical therapy services provided by the external group Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Associates (OSPTA). Upon initial review, these operations seem very different. The Tufts Sports Medicine Department provides ad-hoc and continued treatment from athletic trainers to specific athletes.OSPTA enlists physical therapists and treats anyone prescribed physical therapy by a doctor and follows standard medical billing procedures. However, these entities exist in the same space, treating patients with the same facilities and equipment. Additionally, as Director of Sports Medicine Matthew Whalen remarked, there is little difference in physical therapy treatment and athletic training treatment for orthopedic injuries — those who require physical therapy in the first place. In an email to the Daily, Whalen stated, “in a specific orthopedic injury case requiring physical rehabilitation, the difference in potential treatment [between athletic training and physical therapy] is minimal.” 

As such, OSPTA physical therapy and Tufts Sports Medicine perform similar work with only one clear difference: only varsity teams, club rugby and club frisbee athletes can utilize Tufts Sports Medicine and athletic training services; all other students, including the majority of non-varsity athletes, must go through OSPTA physical therapy to receive treatment. Considering that OSPTA and Tufts Sports Medicine can provide essentially the same services, fast-tracking sports medicine resources to specific athletes is a clear issue of fairness.

The root of this problem lies in the process of accessing a physical therapist. While Tufts Sports Medicine services are free for athletes, OSPTA requires a written prescription from a medical doctor, and according to Whalen, “physical therapy specific services are paid via insurance and the personal financial responsibility is dependent upon the individual’s insurance.” As such, some club athletes and non-athletes, who require sports medicine treatment beyond a quick, first-aid fix, must engage in an extended process of visiting a medical doctor before receiving physical therapy, leaving them without treatment for a longer period of time. Additionally, they must pay for physical rehabilitation services if their insurance stops covering treatment. In contrast, a varsity athlete can receive the same services free of an exhaustive process and financial burden.

However, only some athletes receive these benefits. As mentioned, these sports medicine privileges are reserved for varsity, club rugby and club frisbee teams. This excludes the many club teams exposed to just as much physical exertion as varsity athletes, including club teams like soccer, tennis, lacrosse, rock climbing, martial arts and volleyball. 

Additionally, simply engaging with college life comes with many physical risks. Whether it is twisting an ankle walking down the memorial steps, injuring oneself in the weight room or tearing a muscle after running to class in the rain, the potential for injury surrounds non-athlete Tufts students on a daily basis. Exclusive access to sports medicine facilities lacks equity.

All students, no matter their athletic choices or affiliations, should be allowed to access athletic trainers and associated sports medicine resources. We urge the Tufts Sports Medicine Department to hire any necessary additional trainers in order to ensure full accessibility to this important resource. This is a problem of fairness, equal opportunity and safety, for nobody should be scared to join a club sports team or attend a rowdy rendition of “DONTTRUSTME” by 3OH!3. Resources meant to keep students safe and healthy should be open and available to all — especially if they've already been made easily accessible for some.