Abiye Ibiebele, MD, emergency sports medicine physician at Mass General

Meet Abiye Ibiebele, MD, the newest addition to the Sports Medicine Service at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Ibiebele specializes in emergency sports medicine and also works with college athletes as a team physician at Northeastern University. He grew up in the Washington, D.C. area before going to college and medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Ibiebele completed his emergency medicine residency at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and his sports medicine fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital. He works with active patients and athletes of all ages and is currently accepting new patients in Waltham.

What is emergency sports medicine?

Emergency sports medicine doctors treat patients who have sustained an acute injury to their bones, joints, or muscles. We specialize in rapid diagnosis, using musculoskeletal ultrasound and other imaging techniques, as well as non-surgical treatments, like joint injections and bracing. We refer patients for surgery or physical therapy as needed. Mass General Brigham is great at addressing all sorts of injuries quickly and thoroughly, because of its variety of locations and providers. Personally, I provide care on the athletic field, in Mass General’s emergency room, and in clinic in our Waltham location.

The difference between medical and surgical sports medicine practitioners is that surgeons concentrate on addressing injuries through both nonoperative and surgical measures, while medical sports medicine practitioners provide nonoperative treatment for musculoskeletal injuries and assess all the medical needs of an athlete, whether or not there is an acute injury. We provide a holistic, comprehensive approach, assessing and monitoring all facets of an injured or uninjured athlete’s health – things like diet, digestion, oxygen consumption and breathing, mental health, etc. If an athlete has any comorbidities or underlying disease, like for example asthma or diabetes, we help them manage that as well.

What led you to an interest in sports medicine?

I started playing football in my freshman year of high school, and then I played for a Division III team at Washington University in St. Louis. Football taught me about hard work and team collaboration and was a key aspect of my identity in high school and college.

Unfortunately, early on in my sophomore year at Washington, I tore my ACL during a game and required surgery and a lot of rehabilitation. While recovering, I learned I had a cartilage defect, and would have to undergo a second surgery within the year. This meant that my college football career was over. The experience of getting injured had a silver lining for me, though, because it piqued my interest in sports medicine. Seeing how my orthopedic surgeons, athletic trainers and physical therapists were able to repair my knee and get me mobile again demonstrated to me the value of emergency sports medicine as a treatment modality.

I should also point out that my mother was an obstetrics nurse at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda and, from an early age, she cultivated a strong work ethic and an interest in medicine in me.

What drew you to Mass General?

During fellowship at Boston Children's Hospital, I worked with Gian Corrado, MD, who was the only member of the faculty trained in both emergency and sports medicine. We connected based off that shared background and interest. During my fellowship year, he transitioned to Mass General.

After fellowship, I moved to Michigan for a year to work as an attending in an emergency room, but I wasn't doing any sports medicine at the time. I kept in contact with Dr. Corrado, sharing thoughts and ideas with him for building an emergency sports medicine service. Through talking with him and hearing about his experiences, I knew Mass General would be a great place to work and would afford me the opportunity to continue to develop my interests and build an emergency sports medicine service with Dr. Corrado. Mass General is an elite team of practitioners working with the highest level of athlete.

Can patients make an appointment with you?

Just like with any other sports medicine provider, I work in clinic and treat a broad range of orthopedic conditions and injuries. Patients can make an appointment to see me in Waltham. I will assess and address their injuries, get the appropriate workup, begin treatment, and, if their injury requires surgery, refer them to a surgeon. We work with patients on their return-to-sport goals and concerns.

Our focus is getting injured athletes seen quickly, so we have spots in our day reserved for urgent appointments. It’s important, when you have an injury, to not wait weeks or months to be seen. Depending on the injury, taking a wait-and-see approach risks compounding the injury and doing long-term damage.

What kind of care do you provide in your work with Northeastern University?

At Northeastern, I work with the entire athletics department, but especially with the hockey and basketball teams. There’s almost always a physician from my team or myself on the sidelines at games. Year-round, we are available to Northeastern Huskies who participate in any sport, and we're also on call for the athletic trainers if there's any concerns, including administering pre-season physical exams and screenings.

Do you have any advice for athletes?

The importance of flexibility and stretching can never be overstated. A good amount of the athletes I treat have injuries that are due to imbalances in muscles and tight muscle groups. For athletes, I always encourage a prescribed stretching program and to work with an athletic trainer, a personal trainer, or their coach to develop ways to increase their flexibility, such as yoga. The body is much more responsive on the field when it has been properly stretched. Athletes tend to focus on time in the gym and strength training for improved performance, but self-care activities of daily life are even more important to optimizing athletic output – things like proper hydration, nutrition, and sleep.

What advice would you offer someone who has had a serious injury, and is worried their career may be in jeopardy?

Speaking from experience, take things day-by-day and do not catastrophize. Get all the information about your injury, from multiple sources if possible, talk about your treatment options with your doctor and loved ones, and then decide what's best for you. Our job as sports medicine doctors is to make sure that we're with athletes the whole way, from injury through treatment and recovery. A patient’s priorities are always at the forefront of any treatment plan I develop. Athletes need to trust their medical team and be comfortable working with them, so often it makes sense to get multiple opinions on an injury before deciding on a treatment plan.

What happens when you or an athlete suspects they’ve experienced a concussion?

While most patients get better just with time, we must be careful about preventing another head injury. In cases where concussion symptoms are lasting longer, the concussion could be revealing an underlying, more complex disorder that manifests as headaches and/or dizziness.

An MRI isn’t always necessary following a suspected concussion unless there is a big neurologic defect, like the patient being unable to move their arm or experiencing numbness. We make sure concussion patients are getting proper hydration, nutrition, and sleep, and then monitor their symptoms while they recuperate. If their symptoms dissipate, we see how they respond to resuming academic activities. Then, we’ll have a patient begin with light exercise, like walking or a slow jog. Once we’re confident the athlete has recovered, we clear them for monitored reintegration into contact activities and their sport of choice.

Injured athletes should be seen as soon as possible by a sports medicine practitioner. The symptoms are often most apparent and recognizable immediately following injury. Because of this, our program is laser-focused on rapid access to medical sports medicine care, so an athlete gets on the road to recovery safely but quickly. This is why you’ll often see me on the sidelines at sporting events – I like to assess patients at the site of injury, if possible, to avoid them compounding their injury.