Calf Strain: A Running & Jumping Athlete’s Nightmare

He sits on the bench with an ice bag on the back of his lower leg.  A calf strain is a common sight with athletes young and old.  Everyone wants to know why.

Looking at athletes at every level of athletics, calf strains have become the Great Equalizer. It’s an injury that is way too prevalent.  One of my favorite running buddies is wrestling with a strained calf and I know, as both a certified athletic trainer and a competitive athlete, calf injuries suck!

In the NFL, last year was a bad year for injuries to the calf.  Fans, coaches and players were frustrated to consistently see way too many calf injuries on the NFL injury reports each week.  These slow-healing injuries negatively impacted NFL fantasy football rockstars like Victor Cruz (NYG), Crockett Gillmore (Balt) and Sammy Watkins (Buff).

The hamstrings on the back of the thigh get all the hype when it comes to what we call “soft tissue injuries” in the NFL.  But when you ask skilled players like wide receivers, running back and defensive backs what muscle injury frustrates them the most, calves and groins typically head up that list.

What is a Calf?

A small cow?  Yes, but that’s not important right now.Calf cow 22

The “calf” or calves (plural) is made of two long muscles on the back of the shin bones.  The gastrocnemius or “gastroc” is the bigger of the two muscles and it’s the more superficial of the two.  When you look at a calf “belly,” you’re looking at the gastroc.  It starts from two tendons above the back of the knee and it extends over the backside of the knee and anchors into the top of the Achilles tendon.

The deeper of the two calf muscles is the soleus.  It starts below the knee and it extends downward joining the gastroc at the top of the Achilles tendon.

Simply stated, the two calf muscles merge together to form the Achilles tendon, which we know attaches to the heel bone below the ankle.

The next time you look at a fast player’s calves, you’ll notice that most of these skilled players will have smaller muscle bellies that tend to be closer to the knees.  The bigger, slower players will typically demonstrate a bigger and lower gastrocs.

What Does the Calf Do?

Here comes the fun part.  The calf is not a big or powerful muscle but it’s a very important muscle group.  When running or pushing, the calf transfers all of the power from the legs, hips and back to the ground in a timely manner.  If the timing of that transfer of power changes ever so slightly, which can easily happen due to injury, fatigue, change in the surface area and/or a change in body mechanics, the calf muscle(s) can tear.

Because the calf crosses both the knee joint and the ankle joint via the Achilles, it raises the heel when running and it assists in bending the knee.  Both of these actions are vital when running fast and changing directions.  THAT’s why a calf strain can quickly bring fast players to a screeching halt.

What to Do When a Calf Goes Pop

Tear = strain = pull

When a muscle is injured, the small muscle fibers that make up the muscle belly pop or tear similar to cutting small rubber bands.  The more fibers that tear, the worse the injury. These fibers have a blood and nerve supply so when muscle fibers tear, they bleed into the wound and create pain.

NFL fans saw first hand in the 2014-15 playoffs how Aaron Rodgers’ ability to move and throw quickly changed because of his calf strain.

Initially, an injured calf muscle needs more rest than it needs fancy physical therapy techniques.  Scar tissue is a calf’s best friend.  Scar tissue fills that new injury wound/hole in the muscle and, in a sense, pulls the healthy fibers together.  A common mistake in aggressive sports medicine settings is to over-treat a calf strain by doing too much too soon.  As with a fresh calf injury, being too aggressive early will cause more bleeding, more pain, weaker scar tissue and a longer recovery.  NFL players are in great hands because NFL athletic trainers are exceptional at properly treating these injuries.

I strained my calf three times within two months as I trained for an Ironman triathlon in Austria in 2009.  It was a frustrating and painful injury for me.  It proved to be very valuable for me as an athletic trainer and physical therapist.  It positively changed how I treat NFL players with calf strains.

Truth be told: Rehabbing athletes is much more enjoyable than rehabbing yourself!

The Bottom Line for a Calf Strain

Calf muscles heal slowly.

The key physical therapy pearl that I learned from rehabbing my own calf and dozens of NFL calf strains since then:  When you think the athlete’s calf is ready to return to full speed with no limitations, give the healing calf one more week.  Your calf will thank you.

Eliminating Your Pain: Finding Your CONTROL – ALT – DELETE

When your computer locks up, what do you do?  The CONTROL – ALT – DELETE key combo is probably your go-to plan to put your computer back in business.  How cool would it be if you could quickly fix your body when unexpectedly pain locks you up?

I’m here to tell you that you can do just that!

Unwelcome Guests

We all get them so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us.  Their disguises may vary while their locations tend to be a bit more consistent.  Meanwhile, they are rarely welcome and we never quite know when they plan on leaving.

Who are these mystery intruders?  They have many name such as aches, stiffness, joint catching, shooting pain, throbbing, spasms, stabbing tendon pain and/or deep-bone pain.  Do any of those different forms of pain sound all too familiar?

Onset of Pain

Some of these mild to moderate pains, although not enjoyable by any means, can be justified based on your history.  An old injury or surgery can add merit to why a joint is stiff or why a muscle is not as strong as its counterpart on the  other side of your body.

But what about the sudden stabbing pain in the front of the shoulder when you reach into the frig to grab the milk or when your kneecap catches as you bend down to pick up your shoes?  An injury is almost understandable when it occurs while you lift a heavy weight or run hard up a hill but “…how can I hurt my damn back just sitting at my desk?!”  Those are the pains that frustrate us; athletes and non-athletes alike.

Injury vs Pain

If you have a legitimate injury, get it checked out by a sports doctor, physical therapist or certified athletic trainer.  These quick fixes I’m about to tell you about don’t pertain to serious injuries.  If you’re dealing with a mild to moderate pain, as noted above, you may be able to eliminated it quickly and effectively.

Delving into a deep sports medicine diagnosing injury lesson is well beyond the scope of this article.  Keeping it simple: If your pain started without involving an accident of any sort, a significant change in your activity level and/or is not accompanied by swelling/redness and/or an increased warmth in the area of pain, you might be able to promptly improve your symptoms.

If you have any questions or concerns about your symptoms, see your doctor ASAP and get a firm handle on your injury.

Finding Your CONTROL – ALT – DELETE

When my shoulders hurt, somewhat common after many bike crashes, falls and a shoulder surgery, my Go To Fix-It move is: Pushups.  90% of my shoulder throbbing, stabbing and impingement pain will disappear after a quick set of 25 pushups.  I’m literally smiling as I type this because I love pushups!  They are my shoulder CONTROL – ALT – DELETE solution.

I personally have six (6) of these body pain eliminating routines in my personal toolbox which are awesome quick-fixes for my many orthopedic ailments.  They take no more than 5 minutes to complete and they keep me very active, almost pain-free and, as my wife will agree with, much easier to live with.

My question to you: What are your CONTROL – ALT – DELETE’s?

Tips to Finding Your CONTROL – ALT – DELETE’s

Go With What Works – what have you done in the past that helped you with this type of pain with this joint/body part?  Start with what has worked in the past and work on modifying your technique to improve it’s effectiveness and prolong its benefits.

Stop Looking for the Why – When in pain, the WHY is far less important than the HOW.  Eliminate your pain now and worry about your selfie-in-pain FB picture later.

Bilateral Movements – Your body likes balance.  Doing bilateral (both sides of your body) movements like twists, double arm stretches, bike riding, arm circles and crunches are typically the best moves to start with.

Slow Movements & Deep Breaths – Unless you’re a chiropractor, keep all you movements slow and methodical.  Slow and deep breathing relaxes your body and allows you to listen to the message your body is sending to you, be them good or bad.  Remember, you’re trying to “reset” your body to be balanced and pain-free so allowing for ample time in these new positions is crucial.

Posture, Posture, Posture – Poor posture is a very common source of pain in adults.  Viewing front, side and back photos of you standing and sitting will quickly show visual cues to problem areas in your body.  Focus on stretching stronger/short muscles and strengthening weaker/longer muscles.  Head and neck posture is a common problem in our sit-friendly society.

Examples of Simple Pain Eliminating Solutions

Shoulder Pain – Pushups, door stretches, resisted external rotations, ice massage, thumb-up dumbbell side raises, pool water movements, and seated rows.

Low Back Pain – Crunches, hamstring stretches, laying on hard floor with pillows under knees, hip flexor stretches, bike riding, groin stretches, rolling tennis ball into front/side of hip, Yoga downdog stretches and double arm pull-up bar hangs.

Knee Pain – Roller on front/side of quads, quad stretches, controlled quad strengthening, ice massage, hamstring stretches, massaging and mobilizing kneecap, hip flexor stretches, wall sits, Yoga downdog stretches and bike riding.

Ankle Pain/Heel Pain – Yoga down dog stretches, barefoot walking on soft surfaces, arch & calf massage, ice massage, duck walks on grass on heels only, resisted ankle motion: outward and upward, eliminate shoes with moderate to high heels, picking up marbles/rocks with toes and a heel lift if legs are not equal length.

Key Point to Remember

Your body does not want to be in pain.  Your objective for this endeavor is to put your symptomatic body part(s) in a position which is pain-free and strong to allow your body and mind to reprogram all your associated muscles, tendons, joint capsules and fascia to maintain this “happy place” allowing you to move with less resistance and less pain. Period.

I know this concept sounds very different from the all too common; “medicate to reduce pain” philosophy.  Personally, my physical therapy motto is simple:  Trust your body to know what it needs to do its job!

Being active and healthy is NOT a passive process.   There’s no better time than now to get busy eliminating your pain so you can get busy living.

Self-Care Tips for Athletes with Joint Swelling

I saw a physical therapy patient this week with a chronic knee injury.  His knee was swollen and stiff, much more than normal.  I know his knee well and it typically has only mild swelling with good muscle tone.  His diagnosis is Grade 1 chondromalacia or irritation behind his kneecap.  It’s an issue which most of us, myself included, over 30 years old commonly have behind our patella or kneecaps.

Puzzled with how his knee looked, I asked: “What have you done to make your knee so cranky?”  “Nothing different Doc,” the 42 year old cross-trainer said frustratingly, “Same damn workouts I’ve done for the past 6-7 weeks.”

Here comes my big question: “What did you do after your workouts in regards to cooling down, rollers, stretching and ice?

There it is….the look of a cow looking at a new fence post!

The answer was clear even before he embarrassingly replied: “I didn’t do anything…I didn’t have time.”  It’s a lame excuse and a common practice for athletes of all ages.  It’s my mission with MikeRyanSportsMedicine.com to change that mindset and behavior.

The Truth about Joint Swelling

There are many sources of joint swelling or effusion.  The extra fluid inside a joint can come from the inner lining of the joint, the bone itself or from an infection.

It’s much easier and less painful to keep swelling out of a joint than it is to get the swelling out of a swollen joint.

The important part to note here is to minimize the reason for the swelling instead of trying to convince your body to reabsorb the fluids after they have filled the joint.  I think of process as similar to a flooded bathroom: fixing the leaky pipe under the sink is a much easier solution than mopping up 20 gallons of water covering the floor and soaked under the cabinets.

Tips to Control Joint Effusion

  1. Roll – using a roller on your muscles before and after a workout is a simple relax muscles and to allow your joints to move normally and to do their job.
  2. Stretch – Five minutes of lengthening muscles and fascia before and after a workout improves blood flow and promotes the drainage of waste products from your hard-working muscles.
  3. IceIce is your best friend so start spending more time with it.  If a joint or soft tissue is either overly warm, red in color or sore after a workout, ice it for 10-15 minutes.  Ice quickly decreases the metabolism or joint activity while also decreasing pain.  Both are important.
  4. Posture – As most of us do after our workouts, sitting in a car or at a desk for prolonged periods of time is not good for our spine or joints.  Sitting shortens some of our major muscle groups like our hip flexors and chest muscles. If you have to sit after a workout, make a point to do some of the following:
  • Use perfect spine posture
  • Consistently engage your core muscles
  • Kneel on one knee every 20-30 minutes
  • Sit on a large therapy ball instead of a chair
  • Get up every 20-30 minutes to stretch hamstrings, hip flexors and chest muscles

These are simple steps which don’t require much time or effort. Keeping our bodies healthy is important for many reasons.  Controlling inflammation and swelling should be a top priority for athletes with the common bumps & bruises and wear & tear that comes along with aging and the sports we love.

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

Time For Change

Football’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!

 

A Runner’s Case Study in Courage

A Runner’s Case Study in Courage

As told by Colleen Clarson – At first glance, it was only a daunting fitness challenge.  At second glance, it was terrifying…if not seemingly impossible.

Known as “One of the most scenic trail races in the country,” the Golden Leaf Half Marathon was clearly not meant for Florida flatlanders.  Starting at Colorado’s Snowmass Ski Mountain at 8,500 feet elevation, quickly ascending to 9,500 feet, them plummeting 1,700 feet on trails into Aspen, it was impossible to truly prepare for this terrain from sea level Florida.

“I Need Your Help”

And with only 2½ weeks notice to train, it was tempting to let this rare opportunity pass by.  BUT, after bravely sending out an S.O.S. to Mike Ryan, whose fantastic advice for severe plantar fasciitis got me to the Boston Marathon finish a couple of years ago, I gained confidence knowing Mike could relate to this scary challenge and provide priceless advice.  And because Mike said ‘You can do this,” I decided to take that to the bank.

Advice For Off-Road Hill Management

His advice for preparation was spot on:

  • Shorter “baby steps” on the ascent and descent
  • Think “calves to butt” when running downhill
  • Lean forward into the hill and increase elbow bend to keep forearms parallel to the hill when climbing
  • Calf stretches every mile
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
  • Aggressive “down dog” stretches for the posterior chain stretches before and after the event.

Happy Ending

Somehow I managed to finish the 13.1 miles, but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty!  While I was worried about being booted off the course for not achieving the course-required time checks, somehow I managed to keep pushing forward with Mike’s advice and encouragement running on a loop in my head, and made it in time to the descending finish into a beautiful golden leaf Aspen park.

What stays with me today is what I tell my personal training clients: you don’t really know what you’re made of until you push yourself out of your comfort zone.  Even though I’ve run numerous half marathons and marathons, I’ve never run a trail half marathon at lung-busting elevation.  And I took confidence in Mike’s encouragement, knowing that his advice was based on years of personal experience, professional expertise and an eternally optimistic coaching style.  I never could have embraced this event so out of my comfort zone without his fundamental support and coaching.

Jacksonville athletes are so very fortunate to have Mike Ryan’s unselfish sports medicine expertise and coaching, THANK YOU MIKE!

by Colleen Clarson

Measuring Your Fitness Program With Gratitude

Measuring Your Fitness Program With Gratitude

How does an athlete measure his/her success?

High profile athletes have coaches, fans and ESPN to judge their performance.  Runners and bikers have the clock to gauge the results of their hard work.  The athletes determined to lose weight have the dynamic-duo of the mirror and the weight scale to determine if their efforts were successful.

I recommend a different measuring tool: Gratitude, defined as “a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation”.

The Busy Life Dilemma

Today’s typical lifestyle is crazy hectic.  Personally, I work seven (7) days per week from mid-July until the end of the season in early January or February.  If I’m real lucky, I will get two (2) days off during the Bye Weekend if the injuries are low and I can properly stagger the off days with my amazing assistant athletic trainers.  That sounds insane to most people but that’s the way it is in the NFL as a certified athletic trainer and physical therapist.  This is my 26th full-time season in the NFL, 521 games, and I’m very comfortable with that schedule.

With that being said, it would be very easy to say “I’m too busy to workout”.  That is an absurd thing to say because it’s the crazy schedule that makes the need for a workout extremely important to me.  I need some “me time” to workout away from everyone asking for my help.  Be it just 45 minutes at 4:30 AM, that workout time is exactly what I need to strengthen my body and my mind to handle my daily duties.

Happy Heart, Great Start

Stress management isn’t too high on most people’s priority list these days and that’s a problem.  Taking care of your body, your mind, your attitude and your heart will change your life….and it may ultimately save your life in the process.

Reality Check

Have you ever had an injury that kept you out of your favorite sport?  Standing on the sidelines sucks.  Soon you found yourself saying: “Man if I could only (fill in the activities) again, I’d be thrilled!”

It was about 1:00 AM, January of 1984 and I was laying on my back in a dark parking lot in Hartford, CT with a dislocated ankle and fractured leg.  I was a 3:58 1500 meter runner getting ready to start my indoor track season at Central Connecticut State University but now I was in serious trouble and I was scared.  In an instant I knew my life had changed when I heard the loud crack and I realized that both my right knee and the back of my right heel were both facing in the same direction.  I remember looking down at my mangled leg and wondering if I’d ever run again.

I have to admit, I was burnt out from running at the time.  I was often running over 100 miles per week as I trained and raced on the collegiate cross country, indoor track and outdoor track teams while working in the CCSU Athletic Training Room at least 20 hours per week along with a full class room schedule so I could graduate in 4 years.

Two surgeries later and with a very aggressive rehab plan, I was ready to try to run again.  It was exactly 10 weeks to the day of my accident.  I put my books down, limped down the bleachers where I was studying and walked onto the track.  I ran 1 lap, 400 meters, with a huge smile on my face.  It was March 13, 1984 and I was a runner again!

That accident was what I needed to truly feel grateful to be the athlete that I was then and what I am today.  It shouldn’t take a devastating loss of a physical ability or a blessing or a life to make us appreciate what we have.  Being grateful is my measuring tool and my “reality meter” for everything in my life.  I get on my knees every night to give thanks to God for what I have because I’m very grateful for what I have today and I know that tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Being Grateful…Now

NOW is the best time to appreciate your health.  Like everything else in your life, investing time and effort into your body and will reward you richly.  Stop taking your health for granted before you find yourself with an injury or ailment that puts you on the sideline watching others doing what you love to do.

The time to enhance your fitness is NOW.  It will test your patience so focus on getting better every day and celebrate your accomplishments along the way with passion.  There’s a new YOU out there and it all starts with you being grateful today while you work on being better tomorrow.

Taking the Brakes Off For Great Health

I’m in Atlanta preparing for our last preseason game against the Falcons. We’re just ending our press-season training camp which includes living in the hotel away from our families for about five weeks,  17 hour workdays and up to 90 players on our roster.

I went for a great run this morning with one of my coworkers Brandon Roth. As I finish my 7 mile run and watched the sunrise, I was overwhelmed with the reality of how truly fortunate I am to be able to run like I do. Just as I entered my hotel room, I received a phone call from a colleague and friend. When I told him I just got back from a run you could hear a sigh of disappointment on his end of the phone. He shared with me his recent extensive orthopedic issues and difficulties he’s been going through over the last two and half months.

He’s an avid runner with a very impressive running resume’. As I listened to his story I couldn’t help but reflect upon my thoughts 10 minutes earlier of how blessed I am to be as active as I am. I turned 50 years old this year and I’m committed to staying very active for as long as I’m alive.

Knowing What You Have

Like the old quote:  “You never know you have until it’s gone“, it’s never been more true than when we’re talking about our health.  When our health worsens and life’s daily activities becomes painful and/or difficult to perform, that’s when we truly appreciate our bodies.

Why do we take our bodies, our health and our fitness for granted?

We, myself included, are guilty of doing so.  When we do, it’s a grave mistake. If you don’t believe that just ask anyone you know who’s in chronic pain “What would give to be pain-free?”  After asking such a question listen to what they say and look into their eyes. Their dismay and frustration will be obvious.

Taking Care of Business

There are a few things we all need to do if we want to enhance our health and preserve an active lifestyle.  Both of these are very important to me and I hope they are a high priority for you as well.

Take the Brakes Off –  Stop limiting yourself because of your age, your schedule or your health. It can be as simple as thinking like a 15-year-old in setting a goal that is grand. “Take the brakes off” of your mind and your body and have some fun with it!

Count Your Blessings –  Look yourself in the eyes (not your belly or figure) in the mirror and realize what you have. From your health to your family to your friends to the quality of your lifestyle, you probably have more than 95% of all the people in this world. It’s time to do something to protect those gifts by making them better.

Learn to Move, Then Move –  Stop waiting for a great reason to be more active. Joining a gym or simply getting out for walk 1 to 3 times a day can change your body and your life. It doesn’t have to be a fitness plan, sometimes it’s simply the act of moving and moving some more. Stop making a complicated and just move.

Stretch Something –  Flexibility may not be as sexy as lifting heavy weights or running a three-hour marathon. As we age our muscles and tendons tighten and it’s our job to keep them loose. Stretching tight areas, be it your hamstrings or your hips or your shoulders or your ankles will make you feel better and allow you to move with much less effort.

Set Three Activity Goals –  Set three goals to accomplish in the next three months that involves some type of physical activity. Doesn’t matter what they are or how difficult they may be, just do it.

Find A Healthy Mentor –  Why reinvent the wheel when you have smart and healthy people around you doing what you want to do? Find a friend or coworker who seems to understand what to eat and what to do to stay healthy. Asking for help and support is all you need to do. You may  not be able to do everything they do but having them as a mentor will help you improve your diet, your workout routine and, most importantly, your compliance with both of these.

In closing… Today is the best day we all need to truly appreciate what we have and to take daily steps to showing our gratefulness by improving both our bodies and our minds for whatever tomorrow brings us!