Keeping Chicago Fire athletes healthy with orthopaedic, sports medicine expertise

November 20, 2023 | by NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

Orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Jason Koh, MD, is no stranger to caring for professional athletes. The NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute Director has worked with Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association teams, US Figure Skating, and the Joffrey Ballet to name a few of his high-profile patients, and is currently the Chief Medical Officer of the Chicago Fire FC, Chicago’s Major League Soccer team.

As the top doctor for the Chicago Fire, Dr. Koh leads a multidisciplinary team of experts, including sports cardiologists, primary care sports medicine, sports psychologists and more working together to keep the athletes in peak form before, during and after the season.

“This multidisciplinary approach is the best way to work with athletes and it’s consistent with the way we care for patients,” said Dr. Koh. 

NorthShore at Chicago Fire Dr Koh1 crop

A big component of the medical team’s work is pre-season entrance physicals that include full cardiac evaluations as well as musculoskeletal examinations. “We try to identify areas that may make an athlete susceptible to an injury or a flare up of an old problem and then develop strategies and personalized training programs to help prevent specific injuries,” said Dr. Koh. “We’re always working to help them perform at their highest level.”

Professional athletes competing at high levels can end up overtraining, so paying attention to recovery factors like adequate sleep and nutrition is very important, explained Dr. Koh. The Chicago Fire players sign in each practice day recording the amount and quality of their sleep. They work with professional nutrition experts to ensure their caloric intake is sufficient with attention on everything from sufficient protein to electrolytes and hydration.

High tech wearables are used to monitor players’ heart rate variability (HRV), acceleration speeds on the field and other metrics that all help the medical team assess individual wellness and physical condition.

Years ago some pro teams focused on body fat percentages, but Dr. Koh said now there is more of a focus on overall fitness, which helps ensure players’ long term health and viability.

Game coverage is another important aspect of Dr. Koh’s role with the team. He and his colleagues watch from the bench, monitoring for injuries and then immediately evaluating players who are hurt to determine the level of severity, best course of treatment and whether they can return to the game.

“I am a physician first, so do no harm is number one. The priority is always the athlete’s long-term health, not the game. The organization is supportive of that,” said Dr. Koh. The league has trained personnel watching the game from multiple camera angles and flagging any head injuries or potential concussions, which are all taken very seriously.

Ongoing maintenance and rehabilitation training work with athletes throughout the season and into the offseason are coordinated with the medical team to keep them healthy for the long haul.

Dr. Koh has helped bring regenerative medicine and advanced treatments to treat nagging injuries like hamstring strains and other overuse issues from becoming larger, season or career-ending problems. 

A soccer player in his youth, Dr. Koh loves the game and his birds-eye view of the athletic feats. “Professional soccer is incredibly exciting and the level of competition and skill has continued to increase,” he said.

“Taking care of pro athletes, you see truly remarkable individuals who perform at very high levels despite significant wear and tear on their bodies. For me it is very inspirational to see with the right training, attitudes and rehabilitation we can keep people active,” said Dr. Koh. “This has guided my approach to taking care of my other patients. We can take the lessons from caring for people in the most physically demanding situations and translate them to helping people in their everyday lives.”

The NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute team includes many physicians who have experience and expertise caring for professional athletes, and who work collaboratively to offer that same level of comprehensive care to all patients, he added.

The team of experts at Edward-Elmhurst Medical Groups-Orthopedics provides exceptional orthopedic, sports medicine and podiatry services for patients of all ages. We use the least invasive treatments necessary to help you get back to the activities you enjoy, as quickly as possible. Learn more.

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