Meadville Tribune

National Sports

November 15, 2013

Why do pro athletes recover before you do?

WASHINGTON — It's a mystery: When we twist our ankle playing tennis, it can take weeks to heal, but when a pro athlete does it, he often misses barely a beat.

Take an NBA game last season between the L.A. Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks. Kobe Bryant was pushed in midair, and he landed with a thud on the court. He clutched his ankle and writhed in pain. A few hours later - after X-rays found no broken bones - his coaches announced he was out indefinitely with a bad sprain.

Bryant sent out a tweet about his recuperation and how he was going to spend his time watching movies and sleeping: "Compression. Ice. Django. Zero Dark Thirty. This is Forty and 1 hour of sleep."

Yet 36 hours later, Bryant was back on the court.

Did he have a miraculous recovery? Not necessarily. While professional athletes are in terrific shape, which helps when they get injured, they also have advantages rarely available to the weekend warrior: an instant medical response and a physical therapy regimen that kicks in quickly, that operates practically around the clock and that continues even after the athlete is back in the game.

"Most of the time, the pros get a prompt assessment and treatment by experienced trainers, and what may take a recreational athlete weeks to recover [from] may take a pro only a matter of days," said Benjamin Shaffer, an orthopedic surgeon in Bethesda, Md., who is head team physician for the Washington Capitals and assistant team physician for the Washington Wizards.

Granted, some professional athletes speed their return to competition by overusing painkillers, anti-inflammatories and other prescription drugs and by succumbing to pressure from teams to play through injuries, as The Washington Post reported in a series of stories last spring.

But for many pros, it is the hours of intensive daily attention from highly experienced physical therapists, along with specialized rehabilitation equipment and exercises, that make their rehab and yours quite different.

A cadre of professionals uses electric stimulation, compression sleeves, anti-gravity treadmills and individually tailored exercises to speed the repair of the body. These techniques and devices can mean the difference between an early return or weeks on the bench, Shaffer said.

While physicians and trainers involved with professional teams avoid talking about injuries to specific players, here's a look at what they do to get an athlete up and running again.

Text Only
National Sports
  • Lindley, Tom.jpg One-sided ruling against Rodriguez makes statement for clean baseball

    Alex Rodriguez's team of lawyers and public relations people portray him as the victim of a conspiracy. Regardless of the defense Rodriguez offers, the New York Yankees star isn't believable.

    January 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Why do pro athletes recover before you do?

    It's a mystery: When we twist our ankle playing tennis, it can take weeks to heal, but when a pro athlete does it, he often misses barely a beat.

    November 15, 2013

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Changes to NCAA foul rules could lead to free-throw marathons

    I attended a Big Ten basketball game in Bloomington, Ind., a few years ago where I was seated so close to the floor that I had to keep my feet pinned under my chair so I wouldn’t trip the referee as he raced up and down the court. The view from courtside left me with one shocking reaction: I no longer had any idea what was a foul.

    November 5, 2013 1 Photo

  • Coaches grapple with line between discipline and abuse

    The outrage was visceral last spring when ESPN aired the damning video showing Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice shoving his players, hurling gay slurs and throwing basketballs at their heads.

    November 1, 2013

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Is the NCAA a sinking ship?

    The daily flow of bad news chronicling the NCAA seems to fall somewhere between damaging and defeated. By comparison, the NCAA’s myriad problems make the Obama Administration’s roll out of the Affordable Care Act look smooth.

    October 30, 2013 1 Photo

  • spt_cardscelebrate.jpg VIDEOS: Memorable MLB postseason celebrations

    Some of baseball's most enduring October memories are punctuated by jubilant celebrations. Take a look back at some of the most memorable expressions of joy in Major League Baseball's postseason by players and teams after the final out.

    October 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • spt_siegrist.jpg The most insufferable fans in sports live in St. Louis

    The Cardinals are a very good baseball team. Their fans have every right to be happy. You can't blame the rest of us for not sharing their joy, though.

    October 17, 2013 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Maybe we should rethink the post-game handshake

    The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has advised educators to rethink the long-standing tradition of teams shaking hands after athletic events. Is sportsmanship dead in the Bluegrass State?

    October 16, 2013 1 Photo

  • Turner Field Dangerous, deadly falls from sports stadiums A 30-year-old man fell about 65 feet to his death at an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field Monday evening. Details on what caused the fall are unknown. There have been several other deadly or dangerous falls in sports stadiums in recent years.

    August 14, 2013

  • FBN-INJURE211.jpg NFL injury risk has Hall-of-Fame dad concerned for rookie son

    Kyle Long is going into the family business. "Some people are third-generation carpenters, and that's what they do," his father says. "Well, we hit people."

    July 23, 2013 2 Photos