Aug. 15, 2022

Sport Medicine Centre scores one of the few paediatric sport medicine doctors in Western Canada

Rare paediatric speciality will support youth athletics in Calgary and area
Dr. Karen Ballinger, MD FRCPC, pediatric sport medicine doctor
Karen Ballinger, new paediatric sport medicine doctor in the Sport Medicine Centre at UCalgary. Adrian Shellard, for the Faculty of Kinesiology

An expert in paediatric sport medicine — a rare specialization in Canada — joins UCalgary on Aug. 16. The appointment of Dr. Karen Ballinger, MD FRCPC, builds on the Sport Medicine Centre’s impact in research, teaching, and on the wider sports community.

Ballinger trained at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in a formal specialization not yet taught in Canada. “We feel very lucky that Dr. Ballinger chose to come to the Sport Medicine Centre. Very few doctors are formally trained in paediatric sport medicine in Western Canada, and she will add a lot to our clinical practice as well as our teaching and research programs,” says Dr. Victor Lun, medical co-director of the Sport Medicine Centre.

Ballinger began her training in medicine but didn’t know specializing in paediatric sport medicine was an option until she met a paediatric sport medicine doctor at a conference in Ottawa.

Passion about paediatric sport medicine

“After the conference, I chased the doctor down the hall and asked ‘How did you specialize in paediatric sport medicine? I want to do that too!’” says Ballinger. The doctor she met at the conference suggested Ballinger consider one of the 15 sport medicine fellowships in the U.S. that are based out of children’s hospitals (so more paediatric focused).

“Before becoming a doctor, I worked with children as a babysitter, a camp counsellor, a figure skating coach, and I knew getting to work with young athletes and helping kids on their life journey in general, would be incredible,” she says.

Before getting the training to become a paediatric sport medicine doctor, Ballinger first trained to become a paediatrician. 

Treating children versus adults

Treating children with sport injuries is quite different than treating adults says Ballinger.

Kids are not small adults; they have completely different injury patterns. They have a unique physiology and that means different types of injuries than adults. It also means they recover from their injuries differently than adults.

Many of the injuries she sees are due to a combination of overuse and a growing body, as kids have open growth plates, and bone grows faster than muscle which can make them inflexible, and lead to aches and pains.

Ballinger notes it’s also important to remember the developmental piece.

“We must consider who the child is as a person, what impact the injury might have on them, and though I want to get them back to their sport swiftly and safely, I also want to understand how their injury may impact their long-term health and future goals.”

Research collaboration for youth injuries

Working at the Sport Medicine Centre was a big draw for Ballinger because she liked the people and the clinical setup; however she also wanted to work with the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre (SIPRC) in the Faculty of Kinesiology.  

“I knew SIPRC was a world-class research centre as I had seen their research at conferences beforehand, and knew they were youth-sport focused, and I thought that would be a good mix. Once I get myself established, I would like to work more closely with them,” says Ballinger.  

The feeling is mutual. Dr. Carolyn Emery, PhD, chair of SIPRC, and a professor in the faculties of Kinesiology and Cumming School of Medicine, says they are excited about the opportunity to work with Ballinger.

“We look forward to collaborating in injury prevention, sport-related concussion, and the developing youth athlete. These are key research areas of focus in SIPRC. This is a unique opportunity to build a paediatric clinical-research partnership alongside the existing strong collaborations between SIPRC and the Sport Medicine Centre,” says Emery.  

Dr. Karen Ballinger, MD FRCPC, pediatric sport medicine physician, is now available for appointments for children ages five to 17 years. For more information, visit the University of Calgary’s Sport Medicine Centre.

The Sport Medicine Centre has been at the hub of evidence-based research and clinical practice since becoming established in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. 

The Faculty of Kinesiology is ranked the No. 1 sport science school in North America and No. 10 globally.