NATA Offers Timely Recommendations to Keep Marching Band Members Healthy and Well Prepared for Activity
DALLAS – With the beat from the drumline, the lead of the band director and the blare of the horn section, marching bands are gearing up for the fall sports season and are well underway mastering new music and routines. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) offers important tips to keep these performing athletes safe on the field so they can celebrate their team’s achievements and dazzle crowds with their music and fancy footwork.
“Athletic trainers can play a vital role working with secondary school and collegiate marching bands, color guards and others involved in on field activities. They help reduce and treat injury with these performing athletes just like those who participate on school teams. Yet only 37 percent of public high schools have a full-time athletic trainer,” said NATA President Scott Sailor, EdD, ATC.
“These athletes participate in rigorous practices to perfect routines for game day while wearing heavy uniforms in hot, humid conditions,” said Mary Mundrane-Zweiacher, ATC, PT, CHT, an athletic trainer and certified hand therapist who has worked with both high school and collegiate marching bands. “They have unique needs regarding proper preparation before activity and protocols that help minimize risk of overuse injuries, heat-related conditions or even concussion.”
NATA recommends the following guidelines for parents, band directors, medical professionals and marching band members to ensure safety on the field and in the parade line:
Prepare for Activity: All performing athletes should have a pre-participation exam to determine their readiness to play and uncover any condition that may limit participation. Any underlying medical condition can be exacerbated with vigorous, sustained physical activity.
Put an Emergency Action Plan into Place: Develop a written emergency action plan for managing serious and/or potentially life-threatening injuries. The plan should be reviewed by the athletic trainer or local Emergency Medical Service, and individual assignments, emergency equipment and supplies should be included. It is also important to have a contingency for off-site since many marching bands practice or compete away from their home facility. Share the plan regularly and review it with the appropriate band directors/supervisors, school administrators and medical staff.
Get Ready to March: Band directors, athletic trainers and parents should ensure that students are physically and mentally conditioned for marching band activities. Encourage students to start with 20-minute walks outside and gradually increase distance of time approximately four weeks before the marching band season starts. Limber up with appropriate stretches and warm ups and cool downs after practice. Increase rigorous routines gradually so students can tone their muscles and increase strength.
Promote Core Strength and Good Posture: A good upright posture with core stability not only contributes to the visual precision but also decreases the risk of injury to the band member. This is especially important with musicians who carry the heavier instruments in front of them, such as those in the drumline. If the musician does not have sufficient core strength, the back hyperextends to compensate for the forward weight, causing considerable stress to the low back. The athletic trainer can provide exercises to help improve core strength and stability.
Acclimatize to the Heat: Acclimatize to warm weather activities over a 7 to 14-day period. Start routines slowly and build endurance by progressively increasing time working out and walking in the heat or non-air conditioned environment.
Stay Safe During Lighting: Adhere to the school’s lightning policy. If one isn’t established, follow these NOAA guidelines: “When thunder roars, go indoors.” Following the first lightning strike or boom of thunder, activities should immediately stop and everyone should seek a safe indoor facility. Stay clear of water (using showers/sinks), as well as appliances, electronics, open windows and doors, and screened-in areas. After the final “clap” of thunder and/or flash of lightning, wait 30 minutes before going outdoors. Every time thunder is heard or lightning is seen, the 30-minute clock re-starts.
What to Wear: Wear lightweight shorts and t-shirts to avoid overheating during practice and be smart about footwear. Flip-flops can contribute to trips and falls as well as sprains. These recommendations are especially important for anyone carrying heavy instruments for long periods of time. Save the formal attire – heavy hats and shoes – for dress rehearsals. Participants should get comfortable in them before game day. Be aware that the heavy weight of marching band uniforms keeps heat “in.”
Proper Hydration: Band members should be educated on hydration, and all participants should begin activity well hydrated. To self-monitor hydration levels, band members should pay attention to their thirst level (should be low) and urine color (should be light like lemonade) before, during and following activity. During activity, fluids should be readily available with appropriate breaks to allow for rehydration. Comparing body weight before and after band activity can provide individualized feedback on how performers are doing in terms of hydration. No one should gain weight during exercise (from overconsumption of fluids). Following practice, students should replace body weight losses within two hours.
Concussion Education, Recognition and Management: Make sure the medical team is educated on concussion recognition and management and that the school provides education on symptoms to all band and color guard members. Students should be encouraged to immediately report to the band director, athletic trainer or other medical professional or parent if they have been hit in the head from equipment, aerial movements or other causes and are suffering from any related symptoms such as dizziness, headache, loss of memory, light headiness, fatigue or imbalance. Students with a suspected concussion should immediately be evaluated by an appropriate medical professional for treatment and safe return-to-play.
Seek Shade: Be smart when it comes to the sun. Cool down before and after practices and performances by standing in the shade during rest breaks or when only music is being practiced without a routine.
Fuel for Success: Incorporate a variety of healthy foods such as whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and meat/poultry/fish into the daily diet. Control portion size and minimize intake of foods and beverages with added sugar. Three meals and two to three snacks per day help students meet their daily nutritional needs and provide the fuel needed for exercise.
Proper Techniques with Musical Instruments: Students should hold and manage sousaphones, drums, flutes, trumpets and other instruments correctly to avoid ergonomic injuries.
Stay Fit in Formation: Since bands are often in formation and standing still for long periods of time – especially when on parade routes or during practice – students should move fingers, knees and toes slightly to keep circulation flowing and joints loose and flexible. Finger tendon gliding exercises, available from the athletic trainer, are very beneficial to musicians.
Monitor Band Members: Band members should be monitored at all times on the field for signs of heat illnesses. This should be done by an athletic trainer or educated parent, band director or other individual. Band members should also be encouraged to look out for each other and alert staff if another member appears to be having difficulty.
Inspect Fields and Routes: Remove debris, water, rocks and other hazards from the field or parade route. Band members need to be looking up when marching and in formations for visual impression and to see other band members. Small obstacles can lead to twisted ankles, bruised knees, scraped elbows or other more serious injuries.
Stock the Kit: Stock a first aid kit and keep it on-site for medical emergencies. Include supplies for wound management and bee stings, such as elastic wraps and adhesive bandages, disposable ice packs, tape and wound cleanser. Flexible adhesive bandages work best for a musician’s finger wounds to allow for the needed finger dexterity. If band members have epi-pens for severe allergic reactions, a second one would be helpful to carry in the first aid kit if the prescription drug law in the student’s state allows this. Also, inhalers for those with asthma must be accessible on the field, not locked away inside a building.
“Putting the right protocols into place will help ensure a winning season for marching band and color guard members as they thrill, excite and motivate fans across the country this fall,” adds Sailor. “Reducing risk of injury is critical and if it should occur we as athletic trainers have the right skills, experience and expertise to help manage and treat injury so the student can return to the field safely.”
For more information on high school sports safety, please visit http://www.atyourownrisk.org