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U.S. Women
| Jun 11, 2021

U.S. Women’s Team Physician Karen Sutton Gets, Gives Plenty

By Paul Ohanian

So, you think you’re busy? Try swapping places with Karen Sutton for a few days.

Dr. Sutton is a board-certified sports medicine surgeon with surgical expertise in arthroscopy of the shoulder, knee, and hip. She is an associate attending orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in Connecticut, and a member of the Sports Medicine Institute and Women’s Sports Medicine Center at HSS. 

In addition to those duties, she also serves as the chief medical officer for World Lacrosse, the international governing body for men’s and women’s lacrosse, as head team physician for the U.S. women’s national lacrosse team, and as a member of the USA Lacrosse Sports Science & Safety Committee.

And because involvement in just one sport isn’t enough, she also serves as team physician for U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

In her spare time (insert laughter here), Sutton serves as a frequent presenter at medical conferences, contributes to medical research, reviews and publishes articles in medical journals (with over 30 to her credit), and stays active in professional organizations like the American Orthopaedic Association and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

By the way, she also competes in marathons and triathlons, and has four kids that range in age from 6 to 11. And, of course, she coached her young daughter’s Greenwich Youth Lacrosse team this past spring.

“I think lacrosse, and all youth sports, help to keep kids on a great path in life,” Sutton said. “My kids have a great passion for lacrosse, but they are also involved with basketball, soccer, skiing, and just about anything else that is outdoors. Kids need to be active.”

Sutton’s own connection to lacrosse spans over three decades. A native of Columbia, Md., she first started playing the sport in middle school, and eventually became a member of Duke University’s first varsity team in 1996. She served as a three-year team captain for the Blue Devils while becoming an all-region midfielder and two-time Academic All-American. As a senior, she helped lead Duke to the NCAA semifinals for the first time.

After graduating with distinction from Duke, Sutton earned her medical degree at the University of Maryland, followed by her orthopedic surgery residency at Yale University School of Medicine. 

Her longstanding commitment to treating everyone from elite level athletes to youth players has never wavered. During her fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard School of Medicine, she assisted in the orthopedic care of the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Bruins, and the New England Revolution. Today, she provides the same level of care and treatment to even her youngest patients.

“I think my background as an athlete has helped me to relate to the athletes and patients that I treat,” she said. “Sometimes, they seek me out because of my lacrosse background, which maybe provides them with some authenticity.”

Sutton’s approach to patient care focuses on a holistic treatment plan, highlighting the mental as well as physical. Perhaps its one of the reasons she has a wide following on social media (@karensuttonmd).

“I’m very quick to talk to athletes about potentially having a sports psychologist involved in their care,” Sutton said. “What I’ve learned is that what your body is going through is often related to what your mind is feeling.”

She is quick to note that she applies that same multi-faceted approach to her own life.

“I have to work on my personal and mental health as well,” said Sutton, which explains her commitment to 5 a.m. wake-up calls in order to start her day with physical training. “It’s part of my daily routine. I have to take care of myself in order to take care of others. That makes me a better person.”

As a former athlete, Sutton appreciates the team philosophy utilized by USA Lacrosse in the care of its national team players. She credits the other members of the U.S. women’s team medical staff, including Dr. Rahul Kapur and the athletic trainers, as key figures in the squad’s preparations for the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship.

This week’s tryout at USA Lacrosse Headquarters is the next step in selecting the players that will represent the U.S. in next summer’s championship event in Towson, Md., where a record 30 nations are expected to compete.

“There’s such a big team approach at USA Lacrosse,” Sutton said. “I couldn’t do what I do without the support of USA Lacrosse. I just want to keep giving back to the sport that’s given me so much.”