Look at the sides of many RVHS home sporting events, and you’ll probably find Heidi Irlbeck.

Partly she’s there now as a mom with young kids starting sports.

But partly she’s there in her other role as Heidi Irlbeck, PT (physical therapist), DPT (doctor of physical therapy), ATC (athletic training certified.)

At athletic events, a physical therapist’s role is recognizing and doing immediate treatment of an athletic injury.

“My being there allows the coaches to do what they’re there to do and not be distracted by an injured athlete. I do an immediate accessment, and see if it’s safe for the athlete to go back and play," she said.

 

Look at the sides of a standard RVHS home sporting event, and you’ll probably find Heidi Irlbeck. Partly she’s there now as a mom with young kids starting sports. But partly she’s there in her other role as Heidi Irlbeck, PT (physical therapist), DPT (doctor of physical therapy), ATC (athletic training certified.) At athletic events, a physical therapist’s role is recognizing and doing immediate treatment of an athletic injury. “My being there allows the coaches to do what they’re there to do and not be distracted by an injured athlete. I do an immediate accessment, and see if it’s safe for the athlete to go back and play.  “If it’s just a little strain, I might treat it right there by bracing or taping it up. I’ll make sure they have the full range of motion and strength. “Our goal is to keep the players in the game, but safe,” she said. “I have to be an advocate for the player. We’ve all been there on the side when the coach wants a player in the game, and he hobbles onto the field. “The athletes are going to be out there if they can, and it’s the parents’ call. I’ve had parents not wanting to take my advice, and wanting their child back out in the game. I tell them it’s fine — but it’s their responsibility. “My mind is on the players, not on the ball. I’m always studying the players. If you can see the injury happen, you can treat it better. My mind is constantly going, ‘If this situation happens, here’s what I’ll do,” she said. During the typical football game, Irlbeck might be called out onto the field two or three times, “and the day after it, I’ll get calls,” she said. “I try to touch base with the North Ambulance crew before the game,” Irlbeck said. “If there’s an injury when I feel it’s not safe to move the athlete, I’ll look over at the ambulance crew and wave them over. They’ll bring their cart out because they’re not allowed to drive out onto the field.” Irlbeck’s supervising physician is Dr. Alan Olson, who is often in the stands during football games. Having a physical therapist on the sidelines is a service provided by the Redwood Area Hospital. “It’s a community benefit to the school,” Irlbeck said. “I’m the only trained athletic trainer on the staff.” Irlbeck has been on both sides of athletic training. She suffered the normal injuries playing basketball in high school in Lamberton. As a basketball player in college at Mankato, she ended up needing ankle surgery at one point. She earned a degree in athletic training at Mankato State before going on to study physical therapy. One service Irlbeck provides for athletes starts weeks before the first game begins. “The hospital does 15-minute free sports screenings at the beginning of the seasons,” she said. “For all the local schools, we’ll do baseline impact testing before the start of the sports season. The Hospital Foundation supports it financially.” During practices, Irlbeck will often have an injured athlete replace one activity with another, such as having an athlete with an injured leg do additional weight training instead of jogging laps. “Instead of just sitting there, we like to have them do ‘active rest,’” she said. “I try to do every home event, so all sports come into it at some point in their season.”. In the warmer months that works out to three or four events a week. During the winter season, Irlbeck might have to circulate among several events going on at the same time. “Every sport has its own types of injuries I’m looking for,” she said. “Wrestling is my most intensive sport at times. With the new state concussion law, it’s the referee’s responsibility to pull the kid if he suspects there might be concussion — and I only get a minute and 20 seconds to determine if there is one.” The worst injury Irlbeck has had to treat was an arm compound fracture during a football game a few years ago, and a few shoulder dislocations. “I’ve treated a few broken bones and missing teeth in wrestling,” she said. “I once had a ref rupture his Achilles tendon. “It’s fun to see athletes come back from an injury, and rewarding to me to get to know the kids and help them stay involved in their sport,” she said.