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Katherine Burns, MD (Orthopedic Surgeon): Entered Sports Medicine To Improve Quality of Athletes' Lives

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Two years ago, in recognition of April as Youth Sports Safety Month, MomsTeam asked 30 experts to write a blog answering two questions: first, how or why did they get into their field, and second, how have they made a difference in the life of a youth athlete in the past year.

Today, in celebration of Youth Sports Safety Month 2014, we reprise the blog post from Dr. Katherine Burns, an orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri, who specializes in sports medicine.

By Dr. Katherine Burns, MD

How did I get into my field?

I became an orthopedic surgeon while attending Baylor College of Medicine. I was fascinated with musculoskeletal health, and chose sports medicine in order to have an impact on the quality of peoples' lives. Dr. Katherine Burns

I developed a particular interest in youth hockey safety when my son, Cole, now 11 and in his second year of Pee Wee hockey, decided to start the sport at age 8. I quickly learned that many of the other kids had already been on the ice for 4 or 5 years and that my son needed lots of additional ice time and coaching. I fell in love with the sport,  am now a certified Level III coach, and play on several adult co-ed and women's teams.

But I also know Ice hockey is a dangerous sport: I broke my wrist last year, keeping me out of the operating room for a month, and my son has sustained a concussion.

How have I made a difference in a young athlete's life? 

I actually made a difference in my own son's life. 

I remember the first time I saw my son hit the boards really hard, head first.  It was not easy to watch. It occurred in a preseason game in Fairview Heights, Illinois. I ran down from the stands, over to the bench. The coach had gotten him off the ice by then, and he was crying and complaining of a headache. I'm sure the coach thought I was a frantic, overprotective mother at that point, as it was preseason, and we really didn't know each other.

My son had become a pretty good player, and he wanted to get back in to play. The coach waved his finger back and forth in front of his eyes, and said, "I think he's okay."  I just leveled my gaze at him, holding my boy's helmet and said, "He's not okay til I say he's okay." And that was that.

As an orthopedic surgeon, I'm very used to the pressure from coaches and athletes to get back into the game, and I know from covering teams at the high school and collegiate level how to handle it.  No kid returns to play without a helmet. I also know that my son has an advantage: his games are covered by a board certified sports medicine orthopedic surgeon!

Unfortunately, most youth hockey and other youth games are not, and rates of concussion and other injuries are likely under-reported.  A recent study indicated that while youth hockey coaches think that concussion is important, most are not formally educated on the topic and admit they have limited knowledge.1 Even more concerning, a small percentage of coaches would allow players to return to sport after concussion based on a recent study!2

USA Hockey seems to be very cognizant of the risks of the sport3 and it has made positive changes to improve the safety of the sport, including increasing concussion awareness, delaying the start of bodychecking from age 11 to 13,4 and promoting responsible sport parenting.

But, just in case, I'll be in the stands at my son's games!

Dr. Katherine Burns is a board certified orthopedic surgeon with a speciality in sports medicine, with a focus on shoulder, rotator cuff disease and arthritis, knee ligament reconstruction, and problems of the female athlete.  Dr. Burns is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in biology and psychology, obtained her M.D. from Baylor College of Medicine, completed her residency at the University of Utah and a fellowship in sports medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego.

She is a member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the Arthroscopy Association of North America, the Ruth Jackson Orthopedic Society and the American Medical Women's Association.  Dr. Burns provides care for athletes from high school to the professional levels. She is the team physician for Lindenwood University. and was the team physician for the St. Louis Quest, a professional women's volleyball team.  For more information on Dr. Burns, click here.


1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21694594

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21937746

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22046222

4. http://usahockeymagazine.com/article/2011-04/changing-checking-age-does-not-soften-our-sport