ASA Q & A with Marc Bernier
Marc Bernier is a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist with Encore Rehabilitation in Birmingham, and is the clinical director of sports medicine at Spain Park High School.
Marc has been involved in the sport of soccer as a player, coach and sports medicine professional for almost 40 years, and has served as international expert/consultant in the field of soccer-specific sports medicine. During his career, he has developed rehabilitative and performance enhancement programs for soccer athletes across the world, including players from the National Teams of the United States, Turkey, England, Brazil and Russia. Additionally, he has served as a Sports Medicine Consultant for Galatasaray FC of Istanbul, and is a former member of the Major League Soccer Athletic Training Advisory Board.
Bernier has been an active clinician on the lecture circuit, providing educational seminars on youth sport injuries to fellow sports medicine professionals around the country for 2 national seminar companies, in addition to presenting at the 2004 MLS Combine for the Professional Soccer Athletic Trainer's Society.
- Why did you want to become involved in physical therapy and sports medicine?
I had been playing soccer since the age of 7, and during the final club game of my senior year, I suffered an injury which ultimately lead to me having to turn down a scholarship offer to UNC-Charlotte. I eventually returned to playing collegiately, but I began to experience numerous chronic injuries, and the only advice I was given was to “ice and stretch more.” By chance, I ran into one of my former high school coaches one summer who was a physical therapist in a sports medicine clinic. After talking with him and “shadowing” him in the clinic, I realized there was so much more I could have done to prolong my career. That experience piqued my interest in pursuing sports medicine as a career, and I became interested in helping prolong the careers of other injured athletes.
- What are some of the more unique experiences that you have had in your career?
During my years working at the HealthSouth Medical Center in Birmingham, I was able to work with or consult on players like Kasey Keller, Lucio, Oleg Salenko (1994 World Cup “Golden Boot” winner), and several members of the Turkish National Team that eventually lost to Brazil in the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup.
My most memorable experience was serving as a sports medicine consultant for Galatasaray SK from Istanbul. In 2000, they advanced to the UEFA Cup Final, defeating Arsenal for the championship. I was asked to accompany the team during their 4th round match against Borussia Dortmund in Germany. Before the game started, I was invited to “see the pitch” before the players left the locker room. I was wearing one of the team’s winter coats, and walked out of the players tunnel and onto the field. The Galatasaray fans that predominated the entire upper deck of the stadium mistook me for a player, and went into a frenzy, while the Dortmund fans jeered me just as loudly. So for a few fleeting moments, I got to experience what it felt like to be an elite professional soccer player in Europe. I was then able to watch the match from the sidelines, an absolute dream come true.
- In your experience, are there any differences in the injuries you have seen in professional athletes compared to the youth soccer player?
The types of injuries are very similar, but the manner in which they are managed are very different for obvious reasons. The intensity of training and matches at the professional level will typically result in a greater severity of injury. The additional concerns with professional players is the possibility of cartilage degeneration (arthritis) in the knees and ankles due to years of wear and tear, and also the possibility of tendinosis (degeneration of tendons) due to chronic stress.
The greatest difference is the manner in which they can be rehabilitated. Once a professional is injured, rehabilitation essentially becomes their “job,” with them receiving several treatment sessions per day, which can encompass 4-5 hours. The youth athlete does not have this same luxury, as school and other responsibilities prevent a focused daily commitment of that magnitude (in addition to insurance coverage limitations). Additionally, the youth athlete cannot be monitored as closely to ensure they aren’t doing things that may be detrimental to their recovery, which can sometimes be one of the biggest obstacles when attempting to get them better.
- What can parents do to reduce the risk of injury to their child?
Without a doubt, the most important thing is to ensure that they are not overtraining, which is the primary cause of most youth injuries. I firmly believe that if adolescent athletes were given the proper amount of rest during the season (i.e. – not training 5-7 days per week), and allowed to “get away” from their primary sport during the offseason and play another sport or cross train, it would drastically reduce injury rates. I recommend that athletes in all sports have a 4-6 week period after the season is over to allow for both physical and mental recovery. The focus during this time should be to participate in other activities that will help maintain their fitness, but at the same time give them a break from the repetitive stress that a sport imposes on the body (such as the stress on the hip flexors, hamstrings and growth plates from kicking a ball).
- What should a parent do if their child suffers an injury?
Fortunately, the majority of injuries seen in youth soccer are not medical emergencies, and do not require a trip to the emergency room. Obviously, there are some situations that do require immediate care (fractures, significant head injuries, heat illnesses), but the vast majority do not have this type of urgency.
In most cases, the best course of action is to treat the acute symptoms with rest and ice, and contact a physician office the next day. Whenever possible, I highly recommend that you seek out a physician who specializes in youth sports injuries, as seemingly minor injuries in adolescents may actually be much more involved and will require the expertise of a specialist in this area. Typically, most orthopedic or sports medicine physician groups will have a doctor specializing in youth athletic injuries. If physical therapy is deemed necessary by your physician, follow this same advice when choosing a physical therapist, as he/she will be more experienced in progressing your child back to the higher level physical demands of their sport.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is do not rush your child back to playing too soon. Your physician and therapist’s recommendations on the time frames for returning to play shouldn’t be looked upon as a negotiable aspect of their care! The healing process can’t be accelerated, and the medical team’s goal is the same as yours: to get your child back to play as quickly and safely as possible. So trust their judgment!
Encore Rehabilitation is the largest privately owned rehabilitation company in Alabama and Mississippi, and is the exclusive athletic training team for the Alabama High School Athletic Association. If you should have any physical therapy needs, please visit www.encorerehab.com to find a location near you.
If you have a referral from a physician and would like to see Marc at his clinic on Valleydale Road in Birmingham, call 205-408-4123