Meadville Tribune

Our Health

November 15, 2013

Why do pro athletes recover before you do?

(Continued)

WASHINGTON — The advantage starts as soon as a player goes down. Trainers and physicians rush in with immediate care. "When our guys hurt themselves, moments after, we are treating them," said Greg Smith, the head trainer for the Capitals. "The body's natural reaction [to an injury] is to swell. We are able to control the swelling through compression and ice right away."

Smith often assesses an injury by manipulating deep into tissues with his thumb and pinpointing exactly where a player hurts. Once he figures out what's going on, he will suggest a remedy. "I am able to find problems," he said. "I can tell what is sore and what is not."

In addition to applying ice and compression, Smith said, trainers and physicians decide whether to bring the staff massage therapist into the locker room or to quickly conduct X-ray and MRI exams.

Time is of the essence when treating an injury, doctors and trainers say. In contrast to the pros' quick-response teams, you get stuck scrounging for an appointment with an orthopedist or waiting to schedule an MRI.

Amateur athletes go home, wrap some ice on the injury, elevate, take two ibuprofen and call the doctor in a few days if things haven't improved, said Jason Craig, an associate professor of physical therapy at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., who has worked with Irish Olympic athletes.

By the time an armchair athlete sees a doctor, not only may an ankle sprain still be very painful, but the delay - and what people do during that time - may also have made the injury worse.

"We use the acronym RICE - rest, ice, compression and elevation - no matter what or who is injured," said Kala Flagg, a physical therapist and certified athletic trainer who has worked with NFL players and other elite athletes. "If someone ignores the signs and symptoms, continues to stress it by walking or running, or he doesn't get a proper diagnosis, a Grade 1 sprain becomes a Grade 3 or a fracture."

               

Professionals also have all the time they need to devote to rehabilitation. "It's their job, unlike the rest of us," Shaffer said. "Their goal is to get back to playing at their previous level of activity" as quickly as possible. For regular people, "our recovery is an avocation. We do it between picking up kids and doing our day job."

An injured pro may go to physical therapy as much as three times a day, according to Flagg. "These athletes also may have a setup at home with hot tubs and cold tubs and icing machines. They have massage therapists and one-on-one yoga instructors. Some teams even fine players if they miss a treatment session, she said.

"Pro athletes spend the majority of the day getting themselves in tiptop shape," Flagg said. "Their eating habits and training habits are different [from the average person's]. They are lifting, running or practicing in addition to sitting in a hot tub or cold tub. They are training their bodies to prevent injury from the beginning."

             

Trainers continually monitor the health and biomechanics of their athletes. Smith, of the Capitals, studies his players in games, at practice and while they are training in the gym. What he sees influences the kinds of workouts he gives the players to keep them injury-free.

For example, hockey players engage their chest muscles over and over to shove opponents out of the way and to control the puck. As a result, their shoulders may rotate forward a lot, Smith says. This continual misalignment can make them vulnerable to injury. "It can happen to anybody, even someone working at a desk," Smith said. "When shoulders anatomically are not where they should be, that can cause an injury, or pinching on the vertebrae. We have to work hard to combat these kind of forces."

Smith helps players balance their back and chest muscles by having them do 30 strokes on a rowing machine for every 10 bench presses. This, he said, helps the shoulders to stay where they belong.

Those extra strokes are not a big time commitment, but they are the kind of exercise a weekend hockey player might not realize he or she should do to prevent an injury. Similarly, if a player comes to Smith with lower back pain, he checks to see if his hip flexors are to blame because they are too tight. If that is the case, he recommends specific exercise to increase flexibility.

"We are always checking guys out," Smith said. "We are looking at them. They are also attuned to their bodies. If [they say] their lower backs are tight, it could be their hip flexors."

During the NHL season, he said, the Capitals exercise in the gym daily for only 15 to 20 minutes and practice on the ice for about an hour, with one day off each week for complete rest. On game days, players don't go to the gym. They practice for about an hour, then nap for two to three hours before the game.

"You can't make them tired," Smith said. "They have to have proper rest. They sleep eight to 10 hours a day. The better rest [a pro athlete gets], the better they recover."

Moreover, fit and rested muscles don't get as fatigued during rehabilitation sessions. That's because oxygen and blood flow more efficiently through the body when muscles are fit and strong, said Howard Osterman, a Washington podiatrist and staff physician for the Wizards. Fatigue "is a real deterrent to rehab for the weekend athlete or average patient," he said.

               

Fitness and rehab equipment that trainers use with professional athletes aren't available from many physical therapists who treat ordinary people.

One example is a Game Ready device that is part ice pack and part compression sleeve. Trainers at professional games use Game Ready sleeves that slip right over an injured foot, shoulder or knee. The sleeve contracts while circulating icy water to reduce swelling.

Another example is the AlterG treadmill. Designed for astronauts, it lets athletes get back to running without allowing gravity to do further damage to injured limbs.

An air bag is strapped around a patient's waist. When inflated, the bag lifts the patient, allowing him to run without putting his full weight - or even any weight - on his legs. "This allows a patient to maintain some cardiovascular exercise without having to overstress fractures, strains and sprains," Osterman said.

Only a few physical therapy clinics offer the AlterG for recreational athletes. "It is still more the exception than the rule due to cost and reimbursement issues," Flagg said.

Still, there are times when pros and amateurs face the same issues.

Both kinds of athletes benefit from surgical advances: Where it once could take years to heal from an operation to fix a damaged anterior cruciate ligament, athletes now can often be back within six months to a year.

And being a pro doesn't protect you from post-surgical infection, as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady found in 2008.

"Tom Brady got the same infection Joe Public can get, even though he is a star quarterback" in great shape and with a great health and fitness team, Marymount's Craig said. "A lot of people think that if you are a pro athlete you will heal faster. It doesn't always happen."

And then there's the case of Kobe Bryant. Only a few weeks after he seemed to heal so quickly from that ankle sprain, Bryant tore his Achilles tendon, requiring surgery and six to nine months of rest, just like anyone else. He's in rehab now, having graduated recently from running on an anti-gravity treadmill and hoping to play soon.



 

Text Only
Our Health
  • Don't let a desk job negatively impact your health

    If you’re female, you might want to consider a more physically active career to avoid a variety of cancers.

    July 21, 2014

  • Study focuses on cancer in those who apply pesticides

    This year marks the end of the Agricultural Health Study, a 20-year study of the effects of pesticides on farm workers and their families. Although the study focused on Iowa and North Carolina, there are still some elements that are important for Pennsylvania farmers as well as anyone who handles chemical compounds.

    June 30, 2014

  • Learn to swim and keep drowning at bay

    When you and your family hit the pool or the beach this summer, you need to be aware of a phenomenon known as secondary drowning, or dry drowning.

    June 16, 2014

  • ‘Planting’ the seeds of a better diet this summer

    Summertime is a great time to make improvements to your diet and lifestyle. Despite the conflicting “advice” you may get about diet when reading the popular press (not to mention all of the “food rules”), adding more plants to your diet is always a good idea.

    June 9, 2014

  • Is the idea of drinkable sunscreen worth swallowing?

    Tired of greasy, sticky hands after applying sunscreen? Even the spray-on sunscreens leave you inhaling fumes that you shouldn’t breathe. Well, enter a new era of skincare products: drinkable sunscreen.

    June 3, 2014

  • Survivor stories: Beating cancer with faith and family love

    I recently talked with Rebecca Arbuckle of Meadville to discuss her journey with breast cancer and how she was able to beat it with faith, strength and the love of her family. Although our conversation was upbeat and filled with confidence, there were times that emotion broke through, as it should, for having faced such a battle and won. I am in awe of the people I have had the chance to interview and am honored to share their stories.

    May 27, 2014

  • Uncovering the simple fix to the 'super bug'

    The World Health Organization has identified a serious threat to human health around the globe. Known as a “superbug,” this antimicrobial resistant bacterial infection has been coined “AMR” (Antimicrobial Resistance).

    May 19, 2014

  • Get educated about high blood pressure and eating better

    May is High Blood Pressure Education Month, and one in three Americans have it. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading risk factor for stroke. Hypertension is often referred to as the “silent killer” since you may feel no apparent symptoms. Yet, high blood pressure will cause damage to the blood vessels, brain and heart over time.

    May 13, 2014

  • Researchers: colon cleansing health benefits a myth

    Researchers have found that while colon cleansing has been around since ancient times, the health benefits are basically a myth.

    May 5, 2014

  • Prescription for Medical Nutrition Therapy

    Nutrition is a vital part of being well, and an even more important part to getting well (or healing). It’s a critical part of prevention, yet if I surveyed physicians or lay people, and asked them “Does diet therapy work?” chances are at least 70 percent of them would say “No.”

    April 21, 2014

Business Marquee
AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Amphibious Landing Practice in Hawaii Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Stocks