Q&A with Atlanta Falcons Team Physician

Dr. Spero Karas

Dr. Spero Karas at the Super Bowl

In addition to his duties as an orthopedic surgeon at Emory Sports Medicine Center, Dr. Spero Karas has served as the head team physician for the Atlanta Falcons since 2011. He provides sideline support and oversees the orthopedic and medical care for both the Falcons’ athletes and coaches.

Last Sunday culminated in one of the most exciting seasons in the history of Atlanta’s hometown team after making it to the Super Bowl for the second time in the team’s history.

We caught up with Dr. Karas as he returned home from Houston to talk about the season, working with the Falcons and going to the Super Bowl.

Q: How has it been working with the Falcons this year?  

A: Well, the season was a success on a number of levels. We won our division, our conference, and of course played in the Super Bowl — one of the most exciting and memorable games in Super Bowl history. From the professional side, we took great pride in the care we provided the team. We gave them early access to all of Emory’s outstanding subspecialties, as well as fulfilled all their sports medicine needs.

Q: What were some highlights on this journey to the Super Bowl?

A: Football is football in almost any context. Obviously, playing in the last game of the season does provide some unique challenges. A longer season means more opportunity for wear and tear on the body and subsequent injuries. As a medical staff, we took great care to monitor exertion and make sure the players were optimized physically in terms of nutrition, sleep and recovery.

The really unique thing about the Super Bowl is the actual pace of the game. The pregame happens an hour earlier than it does during the regular season. Halftime in the NFL regular-season is only 12 minutes, but at the Super Bowl halftime was 30 minutes long. There are also many more commercial breaks during the Super Bowl. In a medical context, this is actually advantageous because it allows more “down time” with the players and allows us to keep them hydrated. The negative is that same down time may allow the muscles to cool and the players may have a little bit more difficulty staying loose during the game.

Q: Tell me about the importance of caring for the team/the team’s health whether in the super bowl or playing on the field in general.

A: Any sports team has a unique set of important requirements for the health and safety of the player. The NBA’s requirements may be a little bit different than Major League Baseball’s or the NFL’s. But the most important thing is the health and safety of the players — whether it’s in practice, in games or even during the off-season. I think a lot of these lessons can also be transferred to collegiate, high school and youth sports as well.

Q: Leading up to the Super Bowl…how did you prepare for this exciting opportunity?

A: I don’t think there was any specific preparation required for the Super Bowl. But, we did have some unique situations in terms of player health management between the NFC championship game and the Super Bowl. We were able to pull this off with a multidisciplinary team of athletic trainers, therapists, and physicians so we had a full, healthy roster on the day of the game

Q: What a great season on the field overall! What are some of your takeaways?

A: I think a lot of people see the 16 games of the regular season and say, “Wow, that’s a really long four months.” But in reality, the football season can actually be much longer. It begins at the end of July with a month of training camp (which includes four preseason games) and then flows straight into the 16-game regular season. If you make the playoffs, your season extends by yet another month. So the main takeaway would be “It’s a long season — longer than most people think. It’s important to pace ourselves and watch our players closely for fatigue and over-exertion.”

Q: What’s one piece of advice you have for someone who aspires to become a health professional and to take care of an NFL team?

A: Well, it’s a long road — four years of college, four years of medical school, five years of residency and then a year of sports medicine fellowship. When you take care of a professional sports club, you really need to be available for the coaches, players and staff at any time. Having a great team, like we do at Emory Sports Medicine, obviously makes the job easier because you can have a number of excellent doctors helping out.

Dr. Karas is the Director of the Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Fellowship Program and an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Emory University. He’s an internationally-recognized expert in the field of sports medicine, surgery of the shoulder and knee and arthroscopic surgery.  He was joined at the Super Bowl by fellow Emory Sports Medicine Center physicians Dr. Jeffrey Webb, Dr. Brandon Mines and Dr. Kyle Hammond.

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