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Athletic Trainer Spotlight | Joel Luedke of University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Joel Luedke, Director of Athletic Training & Sports Performance at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, relays the shift towards movement-based injury prevention protocols in sports medicine.

university of wisconsin-la crosse

What initially attracted you to athletic training?

I didn’t know what an athletic trainer was in high school, but I knew that I wanted to do something in the kinesiology field when I was in college. At freshman orientation at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, I heard about athletic training. I liked that it tied in medicine and sports, and I decided to move forward with athletic training as my major. Plus, I got to avoid organic chemistry! 

I started taking courses and then got into the athletic training program during my junior year. During my clinical time, I worked with football, women’s volleyball, wrestling, and high school teams.

What is your philosophy in regards to athletic training?

My philosophy has evolved over time. I like to think of myself as a ‘jack of all trades’ that is always adding to my toolbox to help with injuries and recovery. I have focused on both soft tissue work and rehab, and different ways to address athletes’ issues.

What sports do you typically work with? 

I have worked mostly with football for the last 5 years. With football, we have had ankle injuries, shoulder injuries, AC joint separations, shoulder soreness, and hamstring strains.

What shifts have you seen in athletic training throughout the years?

There has been a huge shift to incorporating soft tissue work with athletes. There also is now a lot more movement-based tools and protocols to encourage athletes to move and rehab.

We now also focus on how to identify the root cause of chronic injuries and think about why the injury actually taking place as opposed to just treating the symptoms. We ask the questions about why certain areas of the body are weak and look at a more global view of why an injury is taking place.

What is the most difficult aspect about being an athletic trainer?

It is difficult to dedicate enough time to each individual. You want to give an athlete all of your time, but with so many athletes and limited resources, that is not possible.

What advice do athletes hesitate to listen to?

Recovery. Focusing on sleep and regeneration. Spending time on rolling out and helping the body recover. Athletes tend to avoid the things that are not the most fun or exciting. However, recovery is some of the most important work an athlete can do.

How were you introduced to the Marc Pro?

I am a big fan of Kelly Starrett and his soft tissue mobility ideas. On Kelly Starrett’s page, I saw a video featuring Gary Reinl and Mark Bell where they discussed the Marc Pro and why you shift away from icing as a recovery tool. A lightbulb went off in my head when I heard Gary describe why icing may not be the best protocol for injuries and I read Gary’s book.

Starting to learn more about icing, I began to challenge my own mindset about the effectiveness of using ice. I had the chance to speak with Gary and learned more about the logic of avoiding ice with treatment.

We were taught to use ice in school. When I thought about the “why” of why do we use ice, I couldn’t answer that question fully.

How many Marc Pros do you have at the university?

We have 3 units at our school and want more. We are looking at other avenues to get more so we can use more units for recovery, and not just injuries.

What is your Marc Pro protocol at your school?                         

We keep our Marc Pros in the training room and tell athletes that they need to be hooked up to the device for a minimum of 30 minutes to experience the benefits.

What do your athletes like best about the Marc Pro?

It has been quite the process to get athletes away from ice. We explain the physiological components of swelling and then athletes begin to understand moving away from icing.

For example, we had two athletes with dislocated elbows, which yielded a lot of swelling. With the Marc Pro, the swelling with these injuries was significantly reduced and these athletes could start rehab protocols much sooner.

How has the Marc Pro helped you and your team in the training room?

Utilizing the Marc Pro for injuries has allowed us to incorporate and add more active recovery protocols and move away from passive modalities.

What is your favorite part about working with athletes on a daily basis?

It is amazing to see what athletes can accomplish by doing the little things that can help them become very successful. Being a part of an athlete returning to the field after a major injury is an incredible part of this profession.

What advice would you give to athletes about recovery?

Make it a focus. Make sure to train smarter, and not just harder. Don’t short change recovery and truly make it a priority. 

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Andy Bliz of University of Buffalo

Kenny Wilka of Marquette University

Ronald Linfonte of St. John’s University