Classical dancer, soccer player, runner, yoga and martial arts enthusiast. Dr. Smitha Ballyamanda has always been athletic. She even came to love football by playing on a collegiate men’s flag football team.
So when Ballyamanda finished medical school and settled on a specialty, sports medicine seemed like an obvious choice.
“It’s a field that came very natural to me,” she said.
Ballyamanda, 32, who is board certified in both family medicine and sports medicine, is a physician with a new York County medical practice, Sports Medicine Associates at Sutton Road in Fort Mill. It opened in July.
She also practices family medicine through an urgent care practice at the same location, Piedmont Express Care at Sutton Road. Both are affiliated with the Piedmont Medical Center Physician Network.
Ballyamanda, who graduated from medical school at Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica, West Indies, completed her residency and a fellowship in sports medicine at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Personal experience informs her understanding of sports medicine, too. She has suffered a variety of sports-related injuries – a broken nose, dislocated fingers, bruised knees, a concussion and a separated shoulder.
She enjoys helping her patients recover from their injuries and return to playing the sports they love.
“It’s one of my favorite parts of the job, when I can release a person to full activity again,” she said. “I was able to clear a few athletes this past week for full-contact play, and seeing the joy on their faces, that’s one of my favorite things.”
Since the sports medicine practice opened, Ballyamanda has been reaching out to athletic trainers at Winthrop University and several York County high schools.
“I’m just letting them know I’m here as a resource,” she said. Some schools, for example, don’t have a concussion return-to-play protocol for players that has been reviewed by a physician, she said, “so it’s also to help them know what to do.”
Some of the most common sports-related injuries she treats include muscle strain, ligament sprain, growth-plate injuries in children and repetitive-use injuries.
Sports medicine physicians in general discourage parents from allowing children who are still growing to play a single sport all year, Ballyamanda said, because that creates the potential for repetitive-use injuries.
“I see a lot of repetitive-motion injuries in children,” she said. “Kids that do one sport all year round, for example baseball, if they’re constantly pitching for different teams, you’re going to have injuries from that repetitive motion. It’s an overuse injury.”
Children who are still growing should concentrate on overall fitness.
“Focus on athleticism rather than on one sport all year,” Ballyamanda said. “When you do the same things over and over, you predispose yourself to an injury.”
Heat-related illnesses, including dehydration, heat exhaustion and sunstroke, are also common. Children are at greater risk for such problems, she said, and they need to drink water frequently.
“Children specifically have to reach a higher core temperature for their body to trigger sweating, so they need to be hydrating every 20 minutes,” she said.
Participants in violent contact sports like football and rugby risk the highest likelihood of serious injuries, Ballyamanda said, including neck and traumatic brain injuries.
But all athletic pursuits pose the potential for injury.
“You’ve got dancers, you’ve got skiing, snowboarding,” she said. “We see injuries from all of that.”
Warm-ups and cool-downs are important steps to prevent injuries before and after any kind of activity. Understanding the proper form for each activity and the proper use of equipment is also crucial.
“If you’re going to be joining a sport, it’s important to have a coach,” Ballyamanda said. “More schools now have athletic trainers, and they can teach coaches and the players how to prevent injuries.”
Athletes also need to know how to properly use safety equipment. Players don’t always understand that using such equipment the wrong way could put them in danger. For example, a lot of football players like to roll up their sleeves, which makes shoulder protection less effective.
“The jerseys are holding the shoulder pads in place,” she said. “In football, the shoulder pads are flying in the wind if you are rolling your sleeves up.”
Still, Ballyamanda sees a greater movement today toward educating coaches and teams about the safest practices for players.
About 80 percent of her patients are able to recover from injuries with noninvasive treatment, she said, while only about 15 percent to 20 percent require a referral for surgery.
“The majority of the time, depending on the injury,” she said, most patients are able to return to doing what they love.
“I am usually pretty good at getting them back.”
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077