Newswise — MAYWOOD, IL – As students head back to school this fall, sports medicine physicians with Loyola Medicine say the risk of COVID-19 exposure among student athletes is low.

As the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S., Nathaniel Jones, MD, a sports medicine physician for Loyola Medicine, emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated. "The Delta variant presents a higher risk among young kids and the immunocompromised. The single best defense against COVID-19 infection is vaccination."

The COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be effective in preventing severe infection requiring hospitalization or life-threatening infection. Since not all people are eligible to receive the vaccine, the next most important line of defense is the proper use of masks, especially indoors or in crowds. Because COVID-19 is a respiratory virus and is spread through the air as infected people breathe, cough and sneeze, social distancing is also important. Masks act as a filter, and distance keeps people away from airborne viral particles.

According to Dr. Jones, "Indoor contact sports and football see slightly increased risk of transmission, but the overall risk remains minimal, and most transmission occurs outside of the sports setting. Our priorities have not changed for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. If you follow guidelines and take proper precautions, you can greatly minimize the risk of becoming infected."

Despite the low risk of COVID-19 exposure to student athletes, acclimating to the increase in activity level is another challenge for students jumping back into sports this year.

“Many students haven’t been diligent about keeping up their activity levels this summer, so they may be starting from scratch," said Pietro Tonino, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon and director of the sports medicine program for Loyola Medicine. "They are more susceptible to injury as they get back into sports, and their first 3-4 weeks of practice turns into conditioning time.”

Dr. Jones recommends training at cooler times throughout the day, staying hydrated and following a progression of starting slowly while working your way up.

Stacey Bennis, MD, a sports medicine physician for Loyola Medicine, is already seeing a rise in appointments across all age groups as people work to increase their activity levels, and as schools and gyms reopen. "We're seeing an uptick in sports injuries now, whereas over the past year we were seeing more arthritis and slip and fall injuries."

Dr. Bennis highlights the importance of taking it slow as people get back into shape to avoid acute sports injuries; the most common being knee injuries, muscle and tendon tears, ankle sprains, shoulder injuries in throwing athletes, and stress fractures (especially in female athletes).

"The number of women presenting with these injuries is on the rise as they return to exercise after a busy year of juggling caring for their families and working through the COVID-19 pandemic," Dr. Bennis says. "Rushing back into exercise after so much time off only increases the risk of injury."

Dr. Bennis and the sports medicine team at Loyola Medicine rely on a multidisciplinary approach, combining physical therapy with OB/GYN, urogynecology and pain management care, to address these key differences between women and men. "At any age, my patient population tends to skew towards women, so for me it's important to make sure I am providing patients with an adequate treatment plan specific to their demographics."

As school starts for many kids this month, Dr. Jones also emphasizes the social and mental benefits of getting kids back into sports on top of the physical benefits. "During the height of the pandemic, students missed out on both the psychological and physical benefits of school sports, as well as the socialization of being with their peers every day. Returning to sports this year will be beneficial to their well-being as a whole, even as the pandemic continues around us."

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About Loyola Medicine

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a nationally ranked academic, quaternary care system based in Chicago's western suburbs. The three-hospital system includes Loyola University Medical Center, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital and MacNeal Hospital, as well as convenient locations offering primary care, specialty care and immediate care services from more than 1,800 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. Loyola is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. & Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its academic affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with the newly renovated Judd A. Weinberg Emergency Department, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research facility at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center. MacNeal is a 374-licensed-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced medical, surgical and psychiatric services, acute rehabilitation, an inpatient skilled nursing facility and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. Loyola Medical Group, a team of primary and specialty care physicians, offers care at over 15 Chicago-area locations. For more information, visit You can also follow Loyola Medicine on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.


About Trinity Health

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 92 hospitals, as well as 100 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities, and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.8 billion and assets of $30.5 billion, the organization returns $1.3 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity Health employs about 123,000 colleagues, including 6,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity Health is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services — ranked by number of visits — in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs. For more information, visit You can also follow Trinity Health on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.