Recovering From a Spartan Race: Sports Medicine Secrets

Source; Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

I competed in the big Charlotte Spartan Race with my friend Paul Wilson yesterday. I had so much fun….in a sick kind of way. It was a great race loaded with challenging obstacles, amazing athletes and all the passion that makes Spartan Races so special.

Getting out of the car after the 7-hour ride back home to Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, two things were crystal clear to me:

  1. I’ll be racing plenty of Spartan Races in the near future.
  2. I will be stiff and sore in the morning.

After 26 years as a physical therapist/athletic trainer in the National Football League, a certified Spartan SGX Coach and a veteran racer, I’ve learned plenty of sports medicine tricks to accelerate an athlete’s recovery.

I’d like to share some of those Recovery Tips with my fellow Spartans.

Why am I sore?

Obstacle racing isn’t easy. When you look back on the race, you may focus on the obstacles themselves but the truth is there are plenty of elements during a Spartan Race that factor into why you’re walking like 70 year old on broken glass the next morning!

  • Soft tissue inflammation – the typical result of prolonged stress on tendons, muscles, ligaments and fascia.
  • Scrapes, scratches and bruises – from climbing, crawling and falling.
  • Increased joint stress – arches, ankles, knees, hips, low back,..etc. are aggressively compressed with ever step on ever-changing surfaces.
  • Lactic acid  – your body’s “exhaust” or waste product produced during intense muscle activity.

Sports Medicine Tips to Accelerate your Recovery

Joint Motion – Almost all 360 joints in your body are used in an obstacle course race. Many of those joints were stretches and twisted in a manner quite different than how they move during your 9-5 job. Simple and slow stretches and movements from your neck to your big toe will enhance vital inner-joint lubrication and help restore normal joint motion.

Hydrate & Eat Healthy– Drinking lots of water with healthy foods will help your body flush out the “bad stuff” while replacing the “good stuff” such as inner muscle fluids, healthy calories, sodium (salt) and important electrolytes.

Drain your Legs – Elevate your legs straight up in the air while pumping your ankles and toes 3x/day.  Gravity was not your friend in the race but now it’s time to take advantage of gravity to help your lymphatic system to drain “the bad stuff” from your loyal legs.

Just Run – “What?!”  Trust me on this one….running the next day after a race is a key part of your recovery.  It only needs to be an easy 1 mile trot on the soccer field or a 10 minutes of light side-shuffles and agility drills in the back yard. Your legs will thank you two days from now.

Massage and Stretch – Get your feet, legs, hips and low back massaged and stretched as soon as possible to minimize the amount of waste products from embedded in the membranes of your muscles.

Ice and Compression Are Your Best FriendsSure Ice hurts but ice a valuable tool for serious athletes training and racing hard.  If you have localized pain or swelling in a muscle or joint, ice the area for 15 minutes followed by a compression sleeve.

Wound Care – Like friendly reminders, the flesh wounds are there. From the scrapes to the cuts to the blisters to the “where-did-that-come-from?”. Take care of open wounds quickly to avoid complications by cleaning the open wounds thoroughly with soap & water, applying an antibiotic ointment and, if needed, covering them with a sterile dressing.

Spartans Heal Fast

Recovering quickly will get you back to what you want to do: Living a healthy and active lifestyle. Challenges await you and having a plan of attack for the aches and pains that come with those challenges will surely make you stronger.

AROO!

A New Look at Sports Hernias

Ab Pain 298I got the call last week and his stress level was obviously high.  “They think she has a sports hernia!” my good friend said.  “Her physical therapist says they may have to cut her groin muscle” he expressed regarding his very athletic 17-year-old daughter.

I get calls like this with questions on sports hernia 4-5 times a month because of both the high incidence of upper groin/lower abdominal pain and the cloud of mystery associated with sports hernia.

Sports Hernia’s New Name

For the experts who manage this significant injury, the term “sports hernia” is being phased out.  The new term, “core muscle injury”, is much more appropriate because of the significant involvement of the many muscles which make up the core.  The leading surgeon in the US focussed on core muscle injuries is Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia.  I’ve sent at least 25 of my professional football players and countless other physical therapy patients of mine to be examined by Dr. Meyers with outstanding success.  I have tremendous respect for Dr. Meyers.  I have personally learned more about this injury from Dr. Meyers than I have from anyone else in my career.

Core Muscle Injury Defined

Often the many varying definitions of this injury is the main reason why this injury remains confusing.  It’s not really a hernia and it typically does not involve just one muscle or tendon.  Of the 70+ NFL players I’ve rehabilitated with a core muscle injury in the past 25+ years, they all had varying symptoms and limitations.

Often the diagnosis of a sports hernia is made based on a process of elimination:  “It’s not a high groin strain and it’s not a significant Ab tear and it’s not hip flexor strain so it must be a sports hernia.”  In many ways this is true, based on the level of testing the athlete has been given.  An MRI with specific techniques to evaluate all the muscles impacting the pelvis.

What Do I Need to Know About a Core Muscle Injury?

History is Key – For both you as the athlete, the physical therapist and the doctor, knowing your pain/symptoms/workout history is very important.  Answering my favorite evaluation question is a great start:  “What makes the pain better and what makes it worse?”

No Two Creases Are Alike – As you’ll notice from the often-varying symptoms and limitations, the anatomy of the Abs/pelvis/hip/groin area will vary as well.  Certain muscles are stronger than others while the many joints in this area will have different degrees of motion.  In addition, even one side of the body will vary from the other based on the athlete’s sport(s) and the common finding of a leg length differential.

Think Above and Below the Pelvis – Your “core” muscles include your quads, hamstrings and the many groin muscles below the pelvis as well as your Abs, low back extensors and hip flexors above the pelvis.  They all come into play so take the blinders off and focus on more real estate instead of just looking at the area of pain.

Tighten What’s Loose – Either with the rehabilitation or with the surgery, when a muscle or tendon is loose, tightening it up will typically improve the symptoms.  Weakened and lengthened abdominal muscles above the pelvis are a common source of this problem.

Loosen What’s Tight – When a muscle is too tight, it needs to be loosened up to allow for better pelvis control when lower Ab/high groin pain is a problem.  Overly tight groin muscles below the pelvis are a common factor with a sports hernia.

In closing, I hope this info helps clarify some of the common mysteries associated with core muscle injuries.  Empowering you as an athlete to take control of your body and your sports injuries is a key focus of MikeRyanSportsMedicine.com.

Your feedback is encouraged and appreciated.

Jimmy Graham’s Shoulder Injury Plan

Graham Jimmy716As New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham prepares for Sunday’s 2015 NFL Pro Bowl, he’s still dealing with an injured right shoulder.  As with many players suiting up for the annual event, most of them have injuries, aches and pains from the long NFL season which started playing games 25 weeks ago.  Pain and professional football are common bedfellows.

Graham nor the Saints have not completely divulged the exact details of his season-long shoulder injury.  He wore a shoulder harness, which stabilizes his shoulder joint by limiting his range of motion, the entire season.  He did not miss a game all season for the second year in a row.

I like Jimmy Graham’s plan for his shoulder by using the Pro Bowl as a test to determine if he needs surgery.  “Damn, isn’t a 16 game season a long enough test?” you might ask.

No and let me explain why.

A Look Behind the NFL Medical Curtain

During a long NFL season, a tight end with an injured shoulder has no time to truly rest his shoulder.  Meanwhile he never has ample time to regain the strength in his rotator cuff.  Both reducing the swelling in the injured shoulder AND increasing the muscular stability of that shoulder are clearly the two most important rehab needs for Jimmy Graham’s shoulder.

During the season, I’m sure the Saints’ athletic training staff were busy just maintaining Jimmy’s range of motion and controlling his pain.  But now that Graham has had a solid four weeks to both reducing his shoulder swelling and increasing the shoulder muscle strength, he’s ready to realistically test his shoulder.

Surgery or No Surgery?

Based on his position, the shoulder harness, the manner in which he used his right arm during the season and his comments, it’s very likely Graham has some type of shoulder labral injury.  It’s been my experience during my 26 years in the NFL that most teams have multiple labral injuries every year.  Most of these labral tears do not need surgery unless joint instability or joint “catching” directly limits the player’s ability to do his job.  If the instability or the “catching” are significant, the player’s surgery is scheduled in days not months.

When a player ends his season with an injured shoulder and stops banging on it, his shoulder quickly feels better.  The difficult decision for the player/team is: Even though a rested shoulder with a labral tear will certainly feel better, will the limitations and symptoms return in Mini Camp when he starts hitting again?

I’ve had 30+ discussions exactly like this with players in the last 20 years.  I can tell you that it’s rarely a crystal-clear decision.  The player wants to be healthy and he trusts his ability to heal.  Meanwhile, he obviously wants to avoid shoulder surgery with 3-6 months of rehab if possible.

What Jimmy Graham is doing by rehabbing for a month and then taking advantage of a rare opportunity to truly test his injured shoulder 4-5 month before his spring Mini Camp is brilliant!

The Question

The question for Graham’s injured right shoulder:  Is rehab enough or does he need surgery to truly correct the problem(s)?

After Sunday’s Rehab Bowl, Jimmy and the Saints’ medical staff will have their answer.

 

Smart Start With CrossFit

Source: Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

I did my first CrossFit workout (at CrossFit Pablo Beach in Jax Beach) this weekend….and my ass and hamstrings are killing me!

New to CrossFit

As a devoted cross trainer, I’m very comfortable with my old friends; running, biking, TRX, body-weight exercises, weight lifting, aggressive core work, swimming, trail running and such, but now doing power lifts such as dead lifts, clean & jerks and squats haven’t been part of my workout routine since I was racing as a miler in college.

Fit and/or Healthy?

Enhancing our fitness is a quest for most of us while not getting injured is a key goal for all of us. Avoiding injures is not a passive process.  It’s an active, conscious process which pays off in a big way by keeping you in the game.

I want to show you how easy it is to minimize the risk of injury so you can maintain an active at ANY age. I’ll use myself as an example with my new workout plan. The steps below are exactly what I did to help accelerate my recovery.

Avoiding Injuries: The Appetizer for Injury Prevention

Going into my first CrossFit workout I knew I’d be doing different types exercises which would significantly stress my muscles, tendons, joints, fascia and ego in a new way. I thoroughly reviewed the warm-up, strength exercises and workout of the day (WOD) beforehand.  These are the steps I took to help me avoid an injury:

Pre-Workout Steps

  • Be Real – Understand the newness of the workouts so check your ego at the door.
  • Break a Sweat – Warm-up the muscles and joints from your ankles to your neck with dynamic stretches, shadow boxing, arm circles,…etc. to start the sweating process.
  • Rolling – I’m a big fan of soft tissue rollers. Using a roller on your legs, back, chest and shoulders needs be a part of your warm-up.

During the Workout

  • Keeping it Real – It’s an entirely new workout so the stresses and loads on your body will be very different. Focus on great technique while you learn the details of the workout while keeping the weights low.
  • Listen to Your Body – Trust your body, listen to your body. If something is wrong, your body will know it.
  • Compete With Yourself – This is a perfect example of when you should compete with yourself with every exercise not the dude beside you.  He/she is probably a seasoned CrossFitter so don’t risk an injury as a rookie trying to match up against Joe Muscle!

Post-Workout

  • Slow the Train – A 5-10 minute cool down doesn’t sound exciting but it important and it should be a part of every workout.
  • Fuel the Train – Replacing fluids, carbs and protein within 30 minutes after a workout will help your recover and your future performances.
  • Drain the Legs – Lay down and elevate your legs while continuing to bend your knees and pump your ankles. It’s a simple way to quickly reduce the lactic acid and waste products from your hard-working leg muscles.

The Day After

  • Get Moving – Get out, move and get more blood into and out of those recovering muscles. Easy cardio, agility and stretching should be part of your routine the day after a workout. If you want a day off, do it 2 days after the hard workout.
  • Repeat the Movements Minus the Load – Repeating a few reps of some of the exercises you did the day before with minimal, if any, weights. As I like to say: “If you want to get rid of soreness, do what made you sore.”
  • Freeze the Spots – If any areas are overly sore, ice those areas to reduce the pain. Less medicine and more ice is typically a smart plan.

 In closing, it’s as simple as planning ahead, be smart, progress slowly and recover aggressively.

The Secret Behind Managing Injuries in the NFL

I get asked about NFL injuries almost every day..…and I love it because NFL injuries have been a huge part of my life for over 26 years.  The injury questions come from every direction; workout buddies, physical therapy patients, college friends, Twitter followers or new friends I meet at an airport or restaurant.

“How do the (NFL) teams handle all the injuries?”

“What’s the difference between a regular ankle sprain and a high ankle sprain?”

“What the hell is a sports hernia?”

“Doesn’t it seems like everyone (hn the NFL) is getting hurt this year?”

I don’t want to speculate on the injury #’s or how they compare to years past.  But I can tell you that the ability for football fans to keep in touch with the medical facts about their favorite team and fantasy football players has never been easier.  Just think about the sheer volume of injury/medical information available online and on social media for NFL fans 24/7?!  It’s almost overwhelming.

Simplifying NFL Injuries

There’s never a shortage of injury info on NFL players.  One of the best parts of my new career since retiring from the NFL is taking the mountains of confusing sports medicine info available and simplifying it for the every day football fan to understand.

Here’s a few examples of how an NFL athletic training staff thinks when a player is injured in a practice or game:

When a Player Is Down

Resting Position – How an injured player is positioned on the field can tell you allot about how serious the injury is and what body parts are involved.

How He Moves/Doesn’t Move – If an injured player remains on the field and is not moving, the reasons can be as simple as the injured player is scared to move or as serious as a catastrophic injury.  On the serious side, the injury could involve the player’s head, spinal cord and/or heart.  Whenever possible, I always asked a conscious player who is laying on the field being evaluated for a potentially serious injury to pump their ankles and hands to send a positive message to obviously concerned family, friends and teammates watching from afar.

Priorities – When evaluating a potentially serious injured player, the emergency priority are consistent:

  1. Assume the worst injury and  stabilizing the player to avoid making the injury worse.
  2. Complete the entire evaluation regardless of the scoreboard, the player or the coach.
  3. Utilize the many medical specialists available to the medical staff to thoroughly evaluate the player.

Return to Play With Football Injury

Risk vs Reward – Is the reward of this player returning to the game worth the risks associated with the injury?

Protect Thy Self – The #1 job that a player has when he steps back onto the field is to protect himself. Regardless if he can run 50 mph and he’s “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” (a quote for the Superman fans in the house), if he can’t protect himself, he doesn’t belong on the field.

Solo – A player needs to show he can perform his position moves and drills all by himself at 75+% speed on the sideline before you can expect him to do it at full speed on a game field with 21 other players around him.

Rehab Started 10 Minutes Ago

Control Swelling – Keeping a recently injured joint or muscle from swelling is a key step to getting an athlete back to full speed ASAP.  Ice early and often.

Pain is Your Friend – Elite athletes aren’t afraid of pain.  They understand that pain is telling them something and they are smart enough to listen to their pain and make the necessary changes.  That is a wise and healthy response compared to a too-common practice in many communities of taking pain medicine and aborting all activities in an effort to completely avoid pain.

I strongly suggest you adopt Option A for your pain management plan.

MDR

Will Cross Training Make Me Stronger…or Injured?

I get lots of questions from non-professional athletes looking for ways to avoid injuries.

Any injury, large or small, can change your life.  As we grow “younger”, staying healthy becomes a higher priority.  The reason being:

  • We don’t heal as fast as we did when we were in our 20’s.
  • Injuries drastically change and limit our lifestyle.
  • Injuries are expen$ive.

For whatever the reason, injuries sucks!

If you think about it, how many of us are at a level of fitness where we would be content to just maintain our present fitness level or to simply “stay fit”?  Most of us, myself included, want to advance or improve our fitness.  To do this, we need to push ourselves and challenge our bodies at a high level.  Cross training is the perfect way to do this….in a smart way.

Cross Training Defined

Merriam-webster.com defines it as:   To engage in various sports or exercises especially for well-rounded health and muscular development.

www.thefreedictionary.com simplifies it even more:   To undergo or provide training in different tasks or skills.

Keeping it simple, I define cross training as the act of practicing multiple fitness activities to have fun, challenge our body and improve our overall health.  If you could consistently include all three of those elements (Fun, Challenge & Improvement) into your workout plan and not get injured, would you be happy?  I think I know your answer.

Not All Exercises are Created Equal

The problem with many of the cross training programs, not to single out any one company or group, is many of the exercises are being applied to athletes who aren’t built or conditioned to do those exercises.  Not all athletes are “round pegs” and not all exercises are “round holes”.

I’ll use myself as an example.  I have a strong athletic background as an athlete ranging from Ironman triathlons to off-road obstacle courses.  Give me a mountain to run up or a lake to swim across or a mud hole to crawl through and I’m all over it.  But put a huge truck tire in front of me to be flipped 10 times, I’m going to struggle big time and I might get injured.  The truth is my body is not built to flip tires.

With that being said, how many athletes are doing exercises that put their RISK for injury much higher than their REWARD for improved fitness?

Tips to Avoid Injuries While Cross Training

Footwear – Why is it so important for everyone to wear lightweight shoes with cross training?  A more stable and supportive shoe will help you avoid foot injuries, ankle pain and knee injuries.  If you’re really worried about a few extra pounds during a workout, wear a lighter shirts and just ring out your headband more often. 🙂

Your Personal Trainer Works For You – Build strong communication habits with your personal trainer so the two of you understand each other.  He/she needs to know your physical goals, your aches/pains, your fears, your diet and your mindset.  Personal trainers are highly skilled professional and for the to do their job, they need your feedback to properly challenge you without getting you injured.

Your Body is Talking…Are You Listening? – Growing as an athlete means improving your ability to communicate with your body.  Our bodies are so much smarter than we are!  Trust your body, listen to your body and reward your body if you want to continue to change your lifestyle for the better.

Challenge Your Body Without Overloading It – Muscles get stronger when they are stressed, broken down and recover stronger.  There’s a fine line between stressed and strained.  Today’s instant access/high-speed internet/immediate response lifestyle is not how the body works.  Most often the body takes time to change and we have to be patient for those changes.  Instead of an intense 15 bike workout, a moderate-intensity fat burning 45 minute bike ride is probably a much better option if losing weight is the goal.

Include a Recovery – Allotting for a 10 minute roller and stretch after each workout will go a long way to reducing soreness and pain before you sit in your car or at your desk.  Time is always a precious commodity and often the post-workout recovery is eliminated.  Instead I suggest you use the 10 minute recovery to multitask with activities such as hydrating, checking your FaceBook page and socializing with your workout partners.

In summary, it’s time to train smarter not harder.  Including cross training is a great way to do it.  Hey runners, let’s start building upper body strength.  Yo dude with the massive biceps, are you doing any cardio to keep your heart healthy?  Hello mother of 3, I think we’d both agree, a baby-free yoga class and a power-walk in the park 2-3 times per week would do your body and mind some good.

Remember, you’ll never find the time, its time to make the time to change your world.

MDR

Top 5 Factors Causing Hamstring Strains

Source: Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

 “What’s he got?” the coach shouts with frustration as I approached with my exam findings of the injured football player.

Before I could even start with my reply, he barked back with double the volume and triple the disgust; “It’s a damn hammy, isn’t it?!”

That conversation, if you want to call it one, took place more often than I want to admit over the past 20 years as Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Strained hamstrings have a way of adding to the stress level of everyone as the player, the coaches and the athletic trainers continue to search for the mystery cause and illusive solution.

Training Camp Strained Hamstrings

This year’s NFL Training Camps are producing more pulled hamstrings than anyone expected.  Reading over the NFL injury reports this weekend, only a week into a long season, it’s hard to find any teams without at least a couple of players not practicing because of a strained hamstrings.

What the Hell are the Hamstrings?

That’s not a typo.  It’s supposed to be plural because there are three (3) muscles that make up the hamstrings located on the backside of the thigh.  All three muscles originate on the lower back of the pelvis and extend below the knee behind the upper calf muscle.  Two of those hamstring muscles pass the knee on the inner or medial side while the third “hammy” inserts on the outer or lateral upper shin above the lateral calf muscle belly.

Simplifying the Function of the Hammies:

(in order of their importance for a football player)

  • Decelerate or slow down the extension (straightening) motion of the knee while running.
  • Assist in extending the hip.
  • Bending the knee.
  • Assist in rotating the shin in relationship with the femur or thigh bone while changing direction.

Terminology Check

Strain (medical) = Tweak (optimistic player) = Pull (pessimistic player) = Tear (bar guy)

They all simply mean that some of the muscle fibers within any of the three hamstring muscles has been torn.  More fibers torn means more bleeding, more pain, more weakness, more loss of function and more downtime.

Factors Contributing to NFL Hamstring Strains

  1. Fatigue – Weaker muscles are vulnerable muscles.  Have you noticed most NFL players with hamstring strains are the players in the skilled, speed positions?  The wide receivers, defensive backs and running backs typically head the list of positions who suffer most of the pulled hamstrings.  They are running and changing directions fast on every play.   When their muscles fatigue the important role of the hamstring is magnified, increasing the potential for fiber failure.
  2. Dehydration – Muscle dehydration is grossly overlooked in relationship with muscle strains.  Simply stated; a dehydrated muscle becomes less effective when forced to contract and relax quickly.  During high speeds and/or high volume activities the “drying up” of a muscle can quickly lead to a strain.
  3. Muscle Imbalance – Strong muscles tend to be tight muscles.  Weak muscles tend to be longer muscles.  When the strong or primary muscles, such as the hamstrings, are doing most of the work the less important muscles, such as the hip rotators or lower Abs, often become too weak.  This imbalance, much like a shimmy in your car, becomes worse high speeds.
  4. Poor Warm-up – Sweating on the outside doesn’t mean your muscles on the inside are prepared to contract/relax at full throttle.  A player who’s been standing around for 10 minute and is suddenly thrown in for a special teams play or a high-intensity drills is immediately at risk for a hamstring injury.
  5. Body Compensation – NFL players move very fast.  When the work load on hamstrings is high, other muscle such as the calves, groin and “glutes” (butt muscle) need to help more.  When other muscles above or below the hammies don’t do their job, the long hamstring muscles pay the price.

Strained hamstrings will tests the patience of the player, the athletic trainer and the coach.   Addressing these factors starting on Day #1 can help keep the players on the field and to help you avoid being the bearer of bad news.

 

TBD

Time For Change

Football - injury 101Football’s in the air.  It has a way of making sports seem legitimate again.  The buzz of training camp and how “my team” will do this season has dominated social conversations and social media this week.

For me, the excitement for another NFL season is here but for very different reasons.

The year was 1987 and I was a junior in physical therapy school at UConn.  That was the last summer I didn’t spend in an NFL training camp up to now.  I had spent the previous 3 summers, starting in 1984, as the New York Giants summer athletic trainer intern.

In contrast, I spent that 1987 summer working as a physical therapy intern for the Visiting Nurses of Hartford (CT) as part of my physical therapy school requirements.  After 3 summers of living out my childhood dream of working with an NFL team, I was cleaning bed pans, cleaning infected wounds and rehabilitating disabled elderly patients in housing projects.  Career Plan: Get into the NFL…and FAST!

This past February I stepped down from my position as Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist with the Jacksonville Jaguars to enjoy my important role as a father and husband.  It wasn’t an easy decision after 26 seasons in the NFL but when I see the joy in my two young children and wife’s faces when we have breakfast together every day, I know it was the right decision for the right reasons.

The Jags have their first training camp practice today.  I’m cheering for them to have a great season, as I always have.  Something will never change.  Sure, I’ll miss the guys, my staff, the laughs, the practical jokes, the rush of seeing players overcome injuries to get back on the field, the endless trays of food and, obviously, I’ll miss the energy of game day.

As for me professionally, exciting changes are here.  I’ve created a new company, Mike Ryan Sports Medicine, Inc., to manage my new physical therapy clinic and consulting business along with other fun sports medicine projects.  As for the details of those “other” endeavors, you’ll have to wait on that….

In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying the change.  Change in my schedule, change in my involvement with my family’s lives, change in my stress level, change in my workout routine (!!), and a healthy change in my professional challenges.

Change is good when the passion is enhanced.  Mission accomplished.

Fun times are here and it’s only getting better!

Gratitude, Change & a Trusted Vision

Ryan Jags 2011aApril 25, 1988 was the day my childhood NFL dream came true.

Ronnie Barnes, the Head Athletic Trainer for the New York Giants and one of my mentors, asked me if I wanted to join his staff as a full-time assistant athletic trainer.  I was 25 years old and a month away from graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in Physical Therapy, my second degree in 7 years.

Nine years earlier, as a sophomore in high school, I had set my mind and heart on “being an athletic trainer in the NFL!” after “Miss G”, a caring guidance councilor at Mohawk Trail High School, showed me info on the profession of athletic training.  I still remember racing home that rainy spring day to share my powerful vision with my family.

End of a Dream

Friday, February 7, 2014 was my last day with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  It was the end of a 26 year career that encompassed 533 NFL games including 2 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl victory.  It was a decision I made three weeks early to rebalance my life, allowing me to spend more time with my family.  With a loving and amazingly supportive wife and two children under the age of 6, I’m ready to prioritize my family for the first time the way they deserve after a long season where I work 7 days per week for 5 1/2 straight months.

Making the Call

I’m no fool.  I know I had only 1 of 32 jobs in the world’s #1 most profitable sports league.  It goes beyond that when it comes down to those that you love.

What does it take to make such a big decision?

  • Gratitude – I’ve lived a childhood dream for over half my life with so many memories, experienced amazing opportunities, met so many wonderful people and developed outstanding skills for the next professional chapter in my life.  I have so much gratitude and appreciation for my family, my assistants, my doctors, my athletes, my medical consultants and mentors who have helped me throughout the years.  As I always say: “I’m simply the result of so many wonderful people who were willing to help me along the way!”
  • Desire for Change – I’m ready for a change, as is my family.  I trust my skills and my abilities to make this change something special.
  • Trusted Vision of Purpose – We all need PURPOSE if we want to be a leader in our life.  I have a very strong sense of purpose in my life and I trust that vision wholeheartedly.  My Personal Mission Statement is: To Enhance the Health of Others.

My purpose in this next chapter is to take what my staff and I have created in a professional football athletic training room setting working with world-class athletes and share it with millions of non-professionals interested in decreasing their pain, increasing their physical function and maximizing their active lifestyle.  Now that’s something to get excited about, huh?!

Giving Thanks

I have so many people to thank and I’m not sure where to start so I won’t.  The tens of thousands of extra special people who I’ve come into contact with over the last 26 years in the NFL are all somehow on that list.

I’ve had a wonderful career and I don’t take that for granted.  I’m thrilled for what I will created in Phase 2 of my profession.  We only live once so I plan on making my life grand.  As for the professional life, it will be exciting and well aligned with my Mission Statement.  In regards to my athletic life, I’ll be working my ass off to be extremely healthy in aspect of my life with lots of crazy/challenging races to keep my body and mind razor-sharp.  For the personal life part, it will be filled with lots of love and laughter….just the way I like it!

How to Shorten Your Shoulder Scope Recovery Time!

Shoulder - AC sprain 281Today is a true day of “role reversal” for me.  Instead of being the physical therapist, I’ll be the patient rolling into the operating room for surgery to fix a chronic shoulder injury by Jacksonville Jaguars Head Team Physician Dr Kevin Kaplan at Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute.

I have to admit, consulting others about a shoulder scope is much more fun than being the one starving yourself after midnight and wearing the paper-thin johnnie!  I’ve had my share of surgeries.  I find them all to be great opportunities for me to learn better ways to help athletes recover quicker when they have to “go under the knife”.

The AC Joint Injury

I’ve had a chronic grade 3 acromioclavicular (AC) joint sprain for many years that needs to be fixed.  How did I get it?  Here comes the entertaining part of the blog post.  I crashed hard on my mountain bike doing a downhill slalom race at Mt Snow in Vermont……in March….in blizzard conditions!  No, it truly wasn’t my smartest day, but it sure was a fun event until I slammed on the ice with my shoulder.  As a fan of extreme sports I might not be any smarter today than I was back then but I’ve learned how to crash more gracefully.

Here’s my game plan for a successful shoulder surgery:

Loosen Up the Good Stuff

I started doing extra shoulder, upper back, neck, rotator cuff and chest stretching during the past week.  Those ligaments, joints, muscles, fascia and tendons are the very things that will dictate my shoulder function after the surgery.  Therefore, I want those structures to be limber, strong and relaxed going into the operation.

Get Rid of the Bad Stuff

Inflammation and edema are bad so my shoulder filed a Restraining Order against them just last week.  Meanwhile, I’ve focussed on icing, controlled exercises and massage as key steps to start the recovery process from my  surgery before I even get to the hospital.

Hydrate the Right Way

Healing tissue needs to be happy tissue.  Approximately 60% of the human body is water.  Staying well hydrated starting three days before the surgery will make the doctor’s job easier and my recovery faster.  I take my hydration serious in any type of weather so when it comes to recovering from surgery, water is my best friend.

Tune Up My Rotator Cuff

Resisted rotator cuff exercises such as external rotation, forward flexion and side raises will continue to be done 3 times per day right up to 2 hours before the surgery.  I want “my cuff” to be as active and as strong as possible before Dr Kevin Kaplan sticks that scalpel into my arm.

Listen to Your Commanders

The surgeon and his staff are your commanding officers so listen to them closely.  They know best so read their memos and listen to their tips.  They will ultimately play a huge role in your outcome so be a great patient before, during and after your surgery.  Post-surgery rehabilitation is priceless.

Plan the Recovery

I have my ice, bottled water, pillows, books and, most importantly, my beautiful wife ready before I leave the house today.  Limping in the door with my arm in a sling is not the time to be setting up my recovery zone.

Think & Be Positive

Healing and recovery starts between the ears.  Positive thoughts and self-talk about my shoulder is dominating my mind today and will continue for the next four weeks.  Those healthy images involve much more than just my body and mind.  They include a strong sense of gratitude for Dr. Kaplan and his highly skilled staff involved with my care.

In Closing……

I view my involvement with today’s surgery as an active process, not a passive event left to the skills of others.  I’ve prepared my body, mind and home to both maximize the benefits of the surgery and accelerating my body’s recovery from the trauma of the operation.

I have way too many exciting things I want to do this off-season with this better-than-new shoulder and just laying around isn’t one of them!