Guardians of the Gridiron: These USC Doctors Score Big on Player Safety

Which sport has the highest number of injuries? You guessed it: football.

These USC doctors have made it their mission to keep players safe before, during and after the big game.

To understand the role of medical professionals in the game, we reached out to Seth C. Gamradt, MD, director of orthopaedic athletic medicine and associate professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery, and James E. Tibone, MD, Moss professor of sports medicine and professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. Both physicians work with and treat USC athletes and other major sports teams, like the New York Giants, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lakers, Kings and Rams.

Seth C. Gamradt, MD, James E. Tibone, MD

Pregame Prevention

USC is at the forefront of preventative maintenance when it comes to sports injuries. We focus on simple skills, like strengthening, balance and physical therapy exercises, to avoid injuries in elite athletes. Coaches are a great asset, because they teach players the mechanics of the game. Just learning how to land correctly can prevent ankle sprains and ACL tears. If players follow game-day rules, such as not leading with their helmet, they can avoid more serious trauma like concussions.

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The Game Day Medical Team

People think that athletic trainers are the only ones around on game day to care for athletes. Not so. Our medical team is comprehensive. We have a spotter, four athletic trainers, two orthopaedic surgeons, an anesthesiologist, a neurosurgeon (with an additional resident at home games) and a medical doctor on-site during every game.

Each member plays a unique role in determining the health and outcome of a player. For example, the spotter examines the field from a bird’s-eye view to see if anyone gets hurt; the anesthesiologist is there in case a player gets seriously injured and needs on the spot treatment related to breathing and spinal issues. The team physicians evaluate players and decide whether they can go back into the game.

Gamradt says, “Our team’s number one responsibility is to take care of the players – even if it is at a critical juncture of the game.”

Game Day Medical Care

Tibone says, “If there is the slightest possibility of an injury, we send a player to the locker room for X-rays and diagnosis. Some injuries can be treated immediately, like a dislocated shoulder. Others require treatment at a medical facility.

Every player wants to play. Every coach wants them to play. But we notice subtleties that they can not see that might suggest injury. It is our job to protect the athletes from themselves and their coaches, to prevent injury or avoid further injury.”

Safety Across the Board

Besides hands-on care, Keck Medicine physicians help develop safety rules to govern the game, as part of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Gamradt says, “We have recommended better-fitting helmets, reducing contact practices during the week and prescribing more rest between practices.” Expert input like this from doctors has been invaluable in increasing the safety for players and reducing injury.

Athletes understand that every time they take the field, there is a risk of injury. But the athletic training team, comprised of Keck Medicine physicians, knows that with proper education, training and care, these risks can be reduced.

Our orthopaedic surgeons do not just treat collegiate and professional athletes. We treat everyone from weekend warriors to high school athletes to early adolescents just learning to play sports.

by Heidi Tyline King

If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top orthopaedic physicians in the world, be sure to schedule an appointment, by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting