With a change of perspective, any optometrist can add sports vision to his practice.
Atlanta-With a change of perspective, any optometrist can add sports vision to his practice.
Providing sports-related care and educating patients and the public about vision-related challenges is not limited to the few doctors who can gain access to professional sports teams or work with prospective Olympic medalists. If you consider nearly everyone who sits in your exam room chair as an athlete, then you open yourself to many ways of bringing “real world” sports vision into your practice, says Niall Farnon, MCOptom, a clinical optometrist in the optometry program at the University of West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago.
“Lots of opportunities are out there for you,” Dr. Farnon says. “Anybody who is out there walking is an athlete in some way or another. We all have that competitive spirit, and even though we’re not professional athletes, we always want to do better. As optometrists, we can help our patients to be able to achieve that.”
Dr. Farnon defines sports vision as the practice of examining and ensuring that deficiencies within the visual system are not interfering with optimum athletic performance. Many amateur and professional athletes are physically fit but may not be visually fit, he says, and optometrists can apply and adapt many of the skills and techniques they use every day to assist them.
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For instance, a sports vision optometrist advises athletes on the most suitable method of refractive correction, discusses ocular health and safety, and measures athletes’ ocular strengths and weaknesses in the context of the sports they play, all of which is very similar to what happens in routine exams.
“These are three steps that you can do quite easily with no extra equipment and just a little bit of extra time,” Dr. Farnon says.
Offering visual training to athletes will take more effort but could enhance your sports vision practice, he says.
How do you build a sports vision practice? If you live in a city with professional sports teams, it wouldn’t hurt to explore the possibility of marketing your services to them. But you’ll probably find more opportunities in approaching schools, parks and recreation programs, and local sports leagues for children and adults.
“Don’t dismiss anybody because of how they look or their age,” Dr. Farnon says.
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Preschoolers are joining soccer leagues and trying many new activities, while seniors are pursuing everything from ping pong to marathons. Many individuals with physical or intellectual challenges participate in individual and team sports.
Further broadening the scope of sports vision, how about spectators?
“Patients spend an awful lot of money to attend a sporting event, and of course they want to see it,” Dr. Farnon says. The sports vision specialist might recommend glare-reducing sunglasses to help the patient follow the action on the field. “Again the market is there,” Dr. Farnon says.
To better serve patients in a sports vision practice, you’ll need to become more adept at sports vision analysis. In a sports vision screening, the optometrist evaluates visual acuity, ocular alignment, eye teaming and depth perception, peripheral awareness, eye movements, motivation, and visualization. To perform an analysis, factors to be assessed include whether the sport involves:
• Anticipation or aiming (or both)
• Active or static demands (will a key object remain in one place, like an archery target, or move, like a thrown ball)
• Short or long duration (this typically refers to a specific action or movement, not an entire game, match, or event)
• Dynamic vision
• Changes in contrast sensitivity (will a sudden switch from sunshine to clouds affect performance in an outdoor sport?)
• Near or far tasks
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Another facet of sports vision may be recommending tinted lenses to improve performance. It helps to solicit the patient’s cooperation in trying out different colors, and patients may be surprised that a color they didn’t like produces the best results, Dr. Farnon says.
It’s also important to discuss the need for ultraviolet protection with athletes in all outdoor sports and activities, from everyday pursuits such as brief neighborhood walks to those that entail significant sun exposure.
The sports vision optometrist should also help raise awareness of the dangers of concussions and ocular trauma. Offering to advise coaches, parents, and athletes about these concerns not only provides an important public health service but could be an entrée for the optometrist who is trying to add a sports vision component to the practice.
Prepared with materials that explain the risks of concussions, how to identify them, and how to manage them at school and at home, the optometrist may find receptive audiences. Dr. Farnon recommends an animated video called Brain 101: The Concussion Playbook.
Similarly, the sports vision optometrist would be well positioned to diagnose post-trauma vision syndrome or midline visual shift syndrome and educate athletes and coaches about these conditions.