Patricia Fulmer, OD, interviews Dr. Keith Smithson, a sports vision specialist, on how optometrists can develop a sports vision practice.
From preseason physicals and injury management, to vision and performance training and post-concussion rehabilitation, sports vision involves anything that meets the visual needs of an athlete.
“Whether it’s a 16 year old baseball player who needs contacts or a professional athlete looking for vision performance enhancement,” Dr. Smithson explains, “we all work with athletes.” Dr. Smithson insists that we all have the ability to become sports vision practitioners, whether or not it becomes our specialization. Whether it’s testing for depth perception or contrast sensitivity, or utilizing dynamic vision testing, athletes often require more from a testing standpoint.
What should optometrists add to their practices? Dr. Smithson says it all starts with paying attention to an athlete’s needs, for example, by prescribing UV protected contact lenses for outdoor sports, or eyedrops to prevent itching when on the field. Other components include ocular alignment, muscular assessment, and binocular skills and contrast sensitivity testing. Some of the technology available includes products like RightEye, Neurotracker and Synaptic.
When asked how to start building a sports vision practice, Dr. Smithson says the first thing to do is build trust and do it for the right reasons.
“If you’re doing it just to put a fancy jersey on your wall or because the market is there,” he says, “you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”
Athletic trainers often act as gatekeepers for sports vision specialists, and whether you live near a professional, collegiate or high school team, you live near an athletic trainer who will be happy to learn what services you can provide.
Concussion rehabilitation has become a major part of sports vision therapy, and Dr. Smithson points out that most of what falls under concussion management is treatable by any trained optometrist. The AOA sports and performance vision committee has many educational resources and online webinars on how to successfully treat a patient who has had a concussion. “Optometry’s role is an integral part of the rehabilitation team for concussions,” Dr. Smithson says, working with athletic trainers and concussion specialists to determine when it’s safe for a player to return to the field.
When it comes to vision therapy, many aspects of rehabilitation were first developed by optometry but were downplayed in the profession before being adopted by physical and occupational therapists. While it’s important for eye care professionals to regain some of that lost ground, Dr. Smithson wants to dispel the myth that sports vision is primarily about vision therapy. Optometrists should try to maximize vision performance for all of their patients, not just athletes, and also meet all of the visual needs of athletes beyond physical therapy.
Dr. Smithson believes that every optometrist should have a basic background in sports vision, especially when it comes to the eye care needs of children. If a child is experiencing vision problems, they may be less likely to play team sports and learn the life lessons that sports can provide – “how to work hard, how to be a team player, how to not give up.” He concludes by mentioning how performance enhancement can be used for injury prevention, making concussions less likely and potentially saving lives.