by Luke Russell
As it is for the athletes they treat, leading Ohio State’s innovative Sports Medicine Center is a team effort. Drs. Tom Best and Chris Kaeding have taken Ohio State’s Sports Medicine program to new heights by stressing multidisciplinary research, patient care and training. In every metric, from clinical volume to publications to national reputation, this unique approach has proven to be a winning game plan.
The Ohio State University Medical Center created its Sports Medicine program in 1991, shortly after Christopher Kaeding, MD, a graduate of Northwestern University, was recruited here. He became chief orthopaedic consultant for Ohio State’s Department of Athletics in 1992 and holder of the Judson D. Wilson Professorship in Orthopaedic Surgery.
It was in 2005, however, when Kaeding was tapped to direct Ohio State’s Sports Medicine Center and take on the role of head team physician for the Buckeyes, that the Center made a fundamental shift in its approach. “Historically, sports medicine programs are a division of a department, like Orthopaedics or Family Medicine,” says Kaeding. “I felt strongly then and I feel strongly now that, to best position us as a national leader in academic collegiate sports medicine, we need to maintain a multidisciplinary structure to maximize our synergies with the rest of our great University.”
Today, the success of this vision is visible in every aspect of the Center, including its leadership structure. Shortly after taking the helm of the program, Kaeding helped recruit Thomas Best, MD, PhD, to co-direct the Center and to hold the Warner M. and Lorna Kays Pomerene Chair in Medicine. Best received his medical degree from the University of Western Ontario and completed a PhD in biomedical engineering at Duke University. “Tom has expertise in primary care sports medicine and is an accomplished researcher,” says Kaeding. “I think having a surgeon and a nonsurgeon working as co-directors promotes a multidisciplinary atmosphere.”
Best agrees. “The structure of our Center allows for multiple inputs. In the end, it makes us stronger because we bring different perspectives and different approaches to the challenges we face.”
On Best’s and Kaeding’s watch, the work of the Center has been prolific. “In every metric you look at, from clinical volume to publications to national reputation, we’ve been up and up and up,” says Kaeding.
Just since 2005, the Center has launched a cutting-edge Sports Biomechanics Lab; exported its role as Buckeye team physicians to organizations like BalletMet Columbus and USA Rugby; launched personalized performance-enhancement programs for such varied groups as musicians and amateur cyclists; expanded patient care services to sites throughout central Ohio; and conducted multidisciplinary research in areas such as cartilage restoration, joint imaging, osteoarthritis, concussion and exercise-induced asthma.
“In all of the areas sports medicine touches, we’re trying to make a difference,” says Best. “In my four-and-a-half years here, when we talk about these kinds of opportunities, I have never heard somebody say, ‘No, that’s not something we should be thinking about.’ It’s what continues to excite me about being at Ohio State.”
In fact, it’s the collaborative approach to sports medicine that has made a lot of the Center’s research possible. “If we didn’t have this multidisciplinary structure, many of our programs wouldn’t even exist, because they don’t fit neatly into a single discipline,” says Kaeding.
Both Best and Kaeding have worked in sports medicine since the beginning of its emergence as a separate discipline, and they share opinions on what the field has become and where it needs to go.
Kaeding is a founding member of the Multicenter Orthopaedic Outcomes Network (MOON), a six-center research collaboration that seeks to determine best practices in anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction, a common but potentially career-altering knee injury for elite athletes and others. Understanding which treatments work best is part of the larger goal of sports medicine, “maximizing people’s physical performance, their physical function,” explains Kaeding. To that end, sports medicine is shifting to a more preventive approach.
“Today, we’re experiencing a true paradigm shift in sports medicine,” says Best. “We will always seek to be better at reconstructing an ACL tear, repairing a cartilage injury, aiding recovery from concussion, or treating exercise-induced asthma, but we’re now moving beyond just thinking about treatment to how we can reduce the incidence of injury.”
According to Kaeding and Best, a more important message isn’t merely how sports medicine is done, but who it’s for: everyone. “I think one of our challenges is that, when you say ‘sports medicine,’ a lot of people in central Ohio still think about the OSU Buckeye teams, but we provide the same level of services and care to the general public, the weekend warriors,” says Best. Kaeding continues, “We still need to do the hard work of educating the public. People come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I know you take care of the Buckeyes; is there a chance you could see me or my neighbor?’ and I say, ‘Of course, that’s 90 percent of what we do.’”
What can the average person do to maximize physical performance? These physicians put it simply: use it or lose it. “The data is piling up in regard to the benefits of exercise,” says Best, who in his role as president of the American College of Sports Medicine, is planning a symposium on the benefits of exercise in cancer prevention. “I can’t overstress the importance of physical activity, the whole concept that exercise is, in fact, medicine,” Best adds. “And I think we have an opportunity here to be leaders in that field.”
Walking the Talk
To see the benefits of exercise in practice, one need look no further than these two doctors.
Best, once a Junior-A-hockey-player-turned-400-meter-Olympic-hopeful, has gone back to running for enjoyment. “I’m hopeful I’m going to run a marathon soon. I’ve been told by a number of my colleagues that I should not be running a marathon,” says Best, amusedly, “but I have some very personal reasons: I have a very close friend, a physician, who is a cancer survivor, and he and I have a pact that we’re going to run a marathon one day.”
Kaeding enjoys traveling with his daughter and mountaineering with his son. “My son and I have climbed Mt. Rainer, Mt. Washington and Pike’s Peak; we’ve hiked the Grand Canyon and Machu Picchu in Peru; we climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two summers ago and Mt. Olympus last summer. My daughter loves to travel, so I’ve been able to take her to a lot of national and international meetings. I really enjoy those times with both of them.”
Moving the Ball Forward
With the string of successes stemming from their five-year co-directorship, Best and Kaeding anticipate even greater opportunities ahead for Sports Medicine at Ohio State, both in terms of the mission of the Medical Center and of the University as a whole.
“If you look at Ohio State’s work in personalized health care, I think there are great opportunities for synergy, opportunities to begin tying the overarching concept of personalized health care to sports medicine,” says Best.
“We have incredible resources and talent at Ohio State,” continues Kaeding, “and Ohio State President Gee’s vision is that we work together as one University. The challenge is to maximize positive interactions. We achieve great things when we collaborate, and we look forward to working together to advance the Medical Center and the University.”