Everywhere you look in Utah Valley, there seems to be a dance studio.
Utah Valley residents own the dance floors of major television shows and musical productions around the country. Dance classes are serious business around the country, but maybe nowhere more than the Wasatch Front.
This dance devotion — and the area’s proximity to outdoor adventure and weekend workouts — means it is the perfect place for former dancer turned sports medicine physician, Claire Gross, M.D.
“I grew up dancing — ballet and tap — and thought I would be a dancer,” she says. “When I was in college, though, I developed a passion for biology and medicine. Now, I enjoy helping dancers and other athletes get back to the activities they enjoy.”
Dr. Gross is a sports medicine specialist seeing patients primarily at Intermountain’s Lehi and American Fork clinics. She is also a team doctor for BYU athletes in a variety of sports and activities. Regardless of who she sees, she understands the emotional desire to get back to the passion.
“No matter the level of competition, the emotional stakes of participation are the same,” Dr. Gross says. “A high school football player wants to play just as much as a player on a college team. I work to get everyone back to where they were as quickly and safely as possible.”
With her dancing experience, Dr. Gross enjoys working with dancers to overcome myriad injuries — large and small — that come from hundreds of hours of dedication and practice.
“Many of the injuries I treat are what are referred to as ‘over-use’ injuries,” she says. “Besides treating the symptoms and the injury, I also take time to educate the patient — and his or her parents — about what needs to be done to avoid the injury in the future. Sometimes that includes improving technique while other times it involves developing a strategy for when flare-ups occur.”
Common “over-use” injuries include tendinitis (tennis elbow, swimmer’s shoulder), bursitis and stress fractures. They can be especially frustrating because they occur in people who are active and participate in the injury-causing activity often, which means taking time to rest is stressful.
“I work with patients to find alternative activities that will give them exercise while still allowing the injured area to heal,” Dr. Gross says.
For example, if a runner has a stress fracture in the foot, biking may be an option to give the injury time to heal while still giving the patient an active outlet.
One misconception about Dr. Gross and other sports medicine specialists is that they only treat athletes.
“We are specialists in the muscular and skeletal systems,” Dr. Gross say. “We help a wide range of patients suffering from injuries — no matter how they develop.”
Sports medicine physicians offer skilled perspective and treatment for bone fractures, ligament and joint problems or other concerns relative to an active lifestyle from head to toe.
When things get more serious and traditional medical treatment is less effective, Dr. Gross works closely with trusted orthopedic surgeons and refers patients, when needed.
“A responsible physician will know when it’s time for surgical intervention,” she says. “We have a wonderful team of surgeons who can assist when the issues can’t be resolved with medical treatment and physical therapy.”
Dr. Gross sees a lot of patients with concussions. Luckily for the long-term health of athletes, concussion protocols are more common among athletes now than they were a few years ago.
“Concussions are a big topic nationally,” Dr. Gross says. “With more societal awareness, I do think we’re catching more. Kids are coming in earlier to be evaluated.”
Clinical evaluation by a medical professional is key in recovering from concussions and other sports-related injuries. It is much better for a patient to be evaluated and sent home with no major concerns than to live with undiagnosed pain.
“A lot of my patients — especially young mothers — resist coming in just in case ‘it’s nothing,’” Dr. Gross says. “I have to remind them that it’s a good thing to come in and make sure it’s nothing. That peace of mind is valuable. If it is something, I remind them that they need to take care of themselves so they can take care of everyone else in their lives.”
In fact, getting athletes and others back to their fulfilling fields of fun is why Dr. Gross traded the ballet stage for the examination room.
What is Sports Medicine?
Sports medicine physicians specialize in the treatment and prevention of activity related injuries — especially concerning the muscular and skeletal systems.
According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, sports medicine physicians meet the following qualifications:
- Is initially board certified in emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, or physical medicine/rehabilitation.
- Has obtained one to two years of additional training in sports medicine through one of the accredited fellowship (subspecialty) programs in sports medicine.
- Has passed a national sports medicine certification examination allowing them to hold a certificate of added qualification in sports medicine.
- Further adds to their expertise through participation in continuing medical education activities. This rigorous process was instituted to distinguish certified sports medicine physicians from other physicians without specialized training.
- Is a leader of the sports medicine team, which also may include specialty physicians and surgeons, athletic trainers, physical therapists, coaches, other personnel and the athlete.
- Sports medicine is a recognized subspecialty by the American Board of Medical Subspecialties and by Medicare.