Byron Hansen started out as an athletic trainer at the University of Oregon more than 35 years ago. During the span of more than three decades, Hansen has had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s most elite athletes and doctors who have helped shape the way he approaches sports medicine.
Hansen, an assistant athletic trainer and coordinator of rehabilitation for the New York Giants, worked alongside and was mentored by doctors regarded as some of the “pioneers of sports medicine” – Don Slocum and Robert Larson, inductees of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) Hall of Fame – while starting his athletic training career at the University of Oregon.
“I was blessed to be able to work with pioneers in sports medicine at the University of Oregon,” he says. “That really gave me a nice foundation to grow on.”
Hansen continued to seek out spots where he could continue to grow as an athletic trainer. Upon completing his master’s degree at the University of Colorado, Hansen trekked west to take a position at the University of Southern California. “One of the reasons why I went there was to work with the ‘father of sports medicine,’ Robert Kerlan, a very prominent physician,” he says. Also an inductee into the AOSSM Hall of Fame, Robert Kerlan was one of the founding physicians of Southern California’s Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinics. These clinics have provided care for some of Los Angeles’ major sports teams for nearly 30 years. “I feel like the doctors I’ve worked with have been very helpful to me. I can rely on them and they have made my job a lot easier,” he says. “I’ve continued that here in New York with Dr. Russell Warren, another inductee into the AOSSM Hall of Fame, and the Hospital for Special Surgery.”
At his current post at the Giants, Hansen is now lending his years of expertise to young doctors and athletic trainers from the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) who come to work for the team as part of a Sports Medicine Fellowship. Hansen and his team of sports medicine experts mentor these young doctors and athletic trainers, much like he was mentored in the beginning of his own career, as they work alongside them daily.
“You start these relationships, and you build on them,” he says. “You create a bond and we spend a lot of time together figuring out the injuries and how to manage them, whether it’s surgically or rehabilitation, and you get a game plan together.”
Together with the fellows and the rest of his medical crew, Hansen spends the bulk of his time diagnosing and treating his players’ injuries. In his role as Coordinator of Rehabilitation, Hansen determines the number of major and minor injuries and delegates treatment for each player. During the season, his priority is to get his hurt players healthy and back to competition swiftly and safely while minimizing the chance for re-injury.
“It’s always a challenge, but that’s kind of the fun part, to see if you can get somebody back quicker rather than longer so then hopefully you can win a game or two more,” he says.
During Hansen’s career, a couple key innovations in sports medicine have aided both himself and his colleagues nationwide in speeding up the injury diagnosis and treatment processes: the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and the arthroscope.
The MRI debuted in the late 70s – at the beginning of Hansen’s career – and significant improvements in arthroscopic surgery came about toward the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s. These two advancements in sports medicine affected the way both athletic trainers and physicians approached treating injured athletes.
“We’ve been able to utilize the MRI evaluate ligament sprains, muscle strains and fractures,” Hansen says. “That has been extremely beneficial and has allowed us to have much more information to help us.”
These technological strides have been crucial to helping heal anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, one of the more well-known athletic injuries to those outside the athletic training room. Throughout his career, Hansen has watched – and been a part of – the evolution of sports medicine and its effect on professional athletes’ careers.
“Up until about the middle to late 80s, it was always a challenge on what was the best way of fixing an ACL injury. In the old days, you’d put them in a plaster cast and they’d get a lot of atrophy and stiffness in their joints; those athletes would not come back for 12-18 months,” he says. “Now, you can get a person back from an ACL injury in six to nine months. We’ve been able to save a lot of players’ careers with the arthroscope, MRI and other advanced rehab techniques.”
In addition to these advances in sports medicine, Hansen believes in the power of connecting with injured players. Even during the slim chance that Hansen isn’t spending time with an injured player, during the season, he’s seeing all of his players at least three times a day during training camp and the regular season.
Though injured players visit with several specialists and athletic trainers throughout their recovery, Hansen is the one monitors every part of the recovery process. He meets the athlete at the team’s new training facility, the Timex Performance Center, seven days a week.
“We have a state of the art new facility that is very luxurious and has a hot tub, cold tub, underwater treadmill, rehab area, treatment area, doctor’s office and large weight room and a large indoor facility,” he says. “It’s enabled us to do a better job, especially in the off season, rehabbing players. I walk them through every stage of the rehab, go to the follow-up doctor’s appointments and teach them how to walk and run to hopefully transition them back to the playing field.”
Hansen credits his solid approach to providing undivided attention and top-notch care to his players to the medical training he has received and experiences he has been through both off the field and on the field.
“These athletes are competing at a high level,” he says. “Our job is to protect them and try to keep them healthy as long as possible.”