Appreciating Assistant Athletic Trainers

John Norwig has the right to be proud.

Playoff football’s in the air. I’m here in Kansas City with NBC Sports’ Sunday Night Football crew to cover this weekend’s AFC divisional playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here’s one story line which probably won’t make the headlines: During Sunday’s clash at Arrowhead Stadium, Steelers’ long-time Head Athletic Trainer John Norwig will be working across the field from one of his former assistants Rick Burkholder, now the Chiefs’ Head Athletic Trainer.

Wait, it gets better.

Last weekend during Pittsburgh’s 30 – 12 Wildcard playoff win over Miami, John watched another one of his former assistants Ryan Grove at work on the opposing sideline. Grove is in his 3rd season as the Head Athletic Trainer for the Miami Dolphins.

By all accounts, this is the first time in NFL history two head athletic trainers (AT) faced their professional mentor in back to back games. Seeing it happen in playoff games makes it that much cooler.

Some may read this and say; “So what!”

I’m willing to bet those same individuals have never spent any time in an Athletic Training Room or had an injury requiring the care of a certified athletic trainer. If he/she had, they would have a greater appreciation for the skills needed to keep elite athletes healthy.

Being Grateful

I could not have done my job as the head athletic trainer/physical therapist for the Jacksonville Jaguars for 20 years without the efforts of my loyal and hard-working assistant athletic trainers. I owe much of my success and blessings to my talented assistants and interns who, from July to January, literally spent more time with me than we did with our own wives and children.

My assistants and interns were part of my family.

Every “head guy” in a professional or college settings will tell you the same thing: Assistant athletic trainers are the backbone of the day-to-day work needed to keep athletes safe.

My Reward

I was thrilled to see two of my assistants – John Burrell (Washington) and Joe Sheehan (Cleveland) – move on to become head athletic trainers in the NFL. They worked hard for the Jaguars and me and I owed them my very best efforts to help them succeed in reaching their professional goal of becoming an NFL head athletic trainer.

I firmly believe this responsibility also applied to interns who have proven themselves worthy of becoming full-time AT’s in the NFL.  An NFL internship is not an easy job. The low-paying position is filled with long thankless days and endless To Do lists.

I’m proud of my two former interns – Marco Zucconi (San Diego….I mean the Los Angeles Chargers) and Doug Quon (Washington) – who are employed as assistant AT’s in the league. A 2009 Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) survey of its members found 88% of head athletic trainers served as interns in the NFL and 86% of assistants were previously NFL interns.  Needless to say, an internship is a proven path into an NFL athletic training room.

Time For Athletic Trainers to Move On

A common goal for most head athletic trainers who truly appreciate and respect their assistants is to help their loyal protégés to move up the food chain.  That means helping their assistants to become a head athletic trainer in the NFL or the college ranks. It’s only fair.

Most of us who were fortunate enough to lead our departments previously worked as interns and assistants doing the same crappy jobs no one else wanted to do. Who do you think is cleaning the storage rooms late at night, packing the travel trunks, taping a majority of the ankles, bringing the injured rookie ice bags at 3 AM and setting up the road game athletic rooms at 5 AM? It’s the assistant athletic trainers!

When I asked John Norwig to describe his feelings when he looks across the field to see his former assistants in the role of head AT in the NFL, his reply was filled with passion and admiration. It’s a common trait of John, which makes him so genuine and likeable. “Proud,” Norwig replied, “I’m so proud to have helped them become successful.”

I think Rick Burkholder, Chiefs’ Head Athletic Trainer and current President of the Professional Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) says it best; “Assistant athletic trainers are the life blood of the sports medicine teams in the NFL.

Like Rick, I was an assistant in the NFL before I headed south to join the expansion Jaguars in 1994. I was so fortunate to learn and grow under the guidance of my mentor and friend Ronnie Barnes with the New York Giants for 6 amazing years.  It was a wonderful opportunity for me and I’m forever grateful to Ronnie for his trust and guidance.

Stay the Course

I applaud assistant athletic trainers at all levels of sports medicine. You work extremely hard for others. It may not seem like it at times but everyone from the head AT’s, players, coaches, families and co-workers see your tremendous efforts and appreciate the positive impact you have on your athletes.

Assistant athletic trainers Note-to-Self:  WHEN you become a head athletic trainer, take care of your assistants and help prepare them to someday move up the food chain as you have done.

NFL Rookie Hamstrings Beware

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Source: Pixabay

Dear Rookie Hamstrings,

We all know the deal.  You busted your ass all last summer, during a long and stress-filled season, into the high-intensity NFL Combine and all the way to your big Pro Day.  It’s been at least 9 solid months of hard work with one goal in mind: “Get into the NFL!!”

Since your last Pro Day, things have certainly changed, huh?  You flew all over the country to meet & greet with NFL teams, your high intensity workouts/rehab routines were put on the back burner, your “social gatherings” with your family and friends were ramped up, you were super busy with your school work (wink, wink) and we all knew that your strict nutritional plan was put on hold.

I can’t say I blame you after the impressive effort you put into the past year.

Congrats, man, you’ve been Drafted or invited to this weekend’s Mini Camp with your new NFL team.  Approximately 0.08% of high school football players get Drafted into the NFL so you have plenty to be proud of!

Wakeup Call

The party’s over.

The hoopla and the hundreds of texts from the festive weekend have faded.  Now it’s time to get back to work.  Your first major step to making your new team starts this weekend:  Your first Mini Camp.  As you enter that new facility, you will quickly realize that everything around you has changed.  From the color of your jersey to how you get your ankles taped to verbage in your playbook, life is different now.

The Truth

While you were celebrating, your new team was planning out every one of your drills, team plays and workout reps for this weekend’s Mini Camp.

While you were toasting with your friends and family, your new team’s coaches, scouts, GM’s and owners were raising your expectations before you even got on the plane.

Hamstring Strains

In my 26 years as an athletic trainer and physical therapist in the NFL, I treated hundreds of hamstring strains in Mini Camps.  About 70% of those strained hamstrings involved rookies.  Why did I consistently see very high numbers of torn hamstrings during the first Mini Camp?  I believe it’s based on the following formula:

Deconditioned Post-Draft Rookie + Fired-Up NFL Coaches + High Tempo Competitive Drills/Practices + Dehydration = Torn Hamstring

Game Planning for Healthy Hamstrings

1.  Stay Well Hydrated – My “50/50 Rules”: Consistently drink 50% water & 50% Gatorade before, during and after all workouts, practices and games.  As for any supplements, leave them at home because they won’t help your hammy’s this weekend.

2.  Embrace Your New Athletic Trainers – NFL athletic trainers are the best in the business.  Their job is to keep you healthy.  Consistently seek their advice, learn from them and benefit from their expert care.

3.  Freeze ’em – Use the team’s cold tank after every workout and practice.  Sure it hurts getting into 48 degree water.  If it’s too cold for you, you can either:  “grow a pair” or be plenty warm enough on your couch come September.

4.  Commit to a Routine – The very successful veteran NFL players I’ve had the pleasure of working with all had one thing in common:  They all had a routine they did every day.  It wasn’t a routine they did when they felt they needed it or for that big game or when they were sore.  They did it EVERY day.  Be one of those guys.

Welcome to the big league, gentlemen.  Now it’s time for you and your hamstrings to show ’em why you’re here.

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.

 

Fantasy Football Dominance Using NFL Injury Reports

Fantasy Football 62The NFL season is two weeks away and that means that the Fantasy Football Drafts are coming soon.  Fantasy Football popularity is very impressive and the number of football fans participating in fantasy leagues around the world continue to rise at an amazing rate.  As the Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist for the Jacksonville Jaguars, I’m often too close to the sports to truly appreciate the impact fantasy football has on the NFL itself.

Because of fantasy football, fans are following all 16 games each week because of the all important stats instead of focussing solely on the final scores.  Looking at the trend in NFL stadiums themselves with the installation of bigger and bigger scoreboards, it’s to share live league-wide stats not just the current game’s replays.

My #1 Rule

I have a simple rule that I follow each and every year.  When it comes to medical information about NFL players, I never discuss any details about my players’ injuries that hasn’t already been reported in the newspaper.

It’s a simple rule I learned from one of my mentors, Ronnie Barnes, Head Athletic Trainer of the New York Giants.  I don’t discuss details about medical injuries involving my players with my wife, best friends, family or anyone, period.  It’s easy to understand why and, as a full-time employee of the NFL for the past 26 seasons, it protects the private medical issues of my players.

Reading Between the Lines of an NFL Injury Report

With that being said, sharing how the medical reports are created within an NFL team would be helpful for fantasy football owners as they prepare their weekend roster moves.  Each NFL team has their own philosophy on how they practice injured players, how they manage an injury during the week and when they test injured players during the weekend.  A few years ago the NFL standardized how each team reports injuries to the league office to help avoid surprises when it comes to disclosing medical issues involving players.

Knowing how to read between the lines of these reports can make your job as a fantasy football owners’ job so much easier and make you look like a genius.  While the new guy in the league is drafting a kicker, you’ll be benching the player who is simply a medical decoy being used to confuse the opposing team’s game planning.

Trust me, it’s a chess match on this side of the fence.  I’ll share with you tips on how to “crack the code” to use NFL injury reports and player statuses as a huge advantage for your fantasy football team.

Fantasy Football Injury FAQ’s

What’s really the difference between questionable, doubtful & probable?”

If someone is limited in practice, is that player just playing the role of a backup for the starters during practice?”

If player X has a concussion, will he typically be cleared to play in the game the following weekend?”

These are some of the questions that many of you ask yourselves as you prepare for the weekend games.  Here’s the inside scoop on the manner in which the injuries are managed by the clubs.

Inside the Percentages

Probable – 75% chance of playing in the game.

Questionable – 50% chance of playing in the game.

Doubtful – 25% chance of playing in the game.

Counting the Reps

The number of reps that the starting offense and defense has on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are very limited.  These reps are treated like gold by the offensive coordinator (OC) and defensive coordinator (DC).  Therefore, players that take “snaps with the number ones” are expected to play on Sunday.

If a team doesn’t think the star veteran corner back will be ready for the game, they surely want their young corner to “get the reps” with the starters to be ready for the game.  Those quality reps with the other 10 starting players on that side of the ball are very valuable and are usually given to the player expected to play on Sunday.

So if you read that an injured player is only taking “some of the reps” and is “rehabbing on the side”, especially late in the week, it’s more than likely you’ll see him on the field Sunday…..in street clothes.

The Stats Killers: Hammys & Groins

As you’ve read in my past sports medicine blog postings on hamstring and groin injuries, these are difficult injuries to return from quickly for skilled positions such as RB, WR and DB’s.  Until the reports say he is running at least 85% by Wednesday and “full speed” on Friday, don’t expect that player to impress you on Sunday.  When a skilled player with a lower extremity soft tissue injury is being interviewed and he gives you the “day-to-day” quote, Sunday might not be his breakout performance.

With both of these injuries, the player’s top end speed is always in question.  The opposing players know it too and they use it to their advantage.  That’s why a player coming back from a strained hamstring or a strained groin may be playing in the game but their stats will be watered down for the first week or so.

Looking for The Edge

As a fantasy football owner, you’re not alone as you look for THE EDGE.  The players, the coaches and the GM’s want to find it just as badly as you do.  It’s the “X Factor” that helps you put the perfect team on the field Sunday afternoon that results in crazy numbers all over the stat sheets.  All of your fellow owners are brain storming to make the key roster move resulting in the WR having a career day or the trade for the young QB mid-week who turns out to be a hometown hero with a monster game.

Understanding NFL medical reports and using sports medicine tips will help you think like an NFL GM and give you the X Factor advantage to dominate your fantasy football league week after week.

Life at the NFL Combine – 2012

It’s NFL combine time and the excitement here in Indy has never been better.  With Super Bowl memories still alive in the host city and hundreds of future NFL star players in town, the upcoming 2012 NFL season gives everyone good reason to be optimistic.

“What Do the Players Really Do at the Combine?

Answer:  They interview for a career that will pay them millions of dollars playing a game.

That “interview” is much different than the one that most new college graduates prepare for each year.  These former collegiate stars are put through a series of test stations that start at 5 AM and include the following tests:

  • Body Measurements
  • Neuropsych baseline testing
  • Complete orthopedic & internal medical examinations
  • Special medical tested – as needed
  • Wonderlic Test – to assess learning and problem solving skills.
  • Isokinetic lower extremity testing
  • Personal interview
  • Bench press
  • 40 yard dash
  • Vertical jump
  • Broad jump
  • 3 Cone drill
  • 60 yard shuttle run
  • Position-specific drills

How Tough Can it Be?

I’ll tell you right now; the Combine is tough on these players!  It’s a stressful and physically demanding endeavor for these young men to complete.  They all know it’s a necessary hurdle if they want to make professional football a career.

I see it every year and, while the names change, the attitude of competition and determination remains the same for the football players that succeed at the Combine.

These tough guys come in here with a lot of confidence and they want to show the world how good they really are.  They are willing to accept the boredom of the lonely MRI at 11 PM, the pains of dozens of pokes of the doctor examinations and the tedious questions from the coaches during the interviews just to get on that field.  The field is their “happy place” is where they will shine and bring that childhood dream to a whole new level.

Surprises: Both Good & Bad

I enjoy being a part of this NFL Draft selection process in an effort to make this amazing league stronger.  With new players for next year’s rosters, I get to see tomorrow’s superstars today.

The value of some of the players that we examine over the next 2 days will rise while others will fall.  Who’s faster than expected?  Who’s shorter than their college media guide said they were?  Whose knee is stronger than expected?

The Bottom Line on the NFL Combine

My main responsibility at the Combine is to oversee all medical issues related to the medical grading of every player we examine.  I have an outstanding medical staff with me that work very hard for the Jaguars.  Our medical team here at the Combine consists of certified athletic trainers, orthopedic surgeons, internal medicine physicians and a radiologist.  They are all my VIP’s and I greatly value their input as we all work together to put one (1) overall medical grade on each and every player.

With all the high-tech testing and labor intensive evaluating of these players, there is one common objective that all 32 teams have: “Who will help me win games?”  That’s it.  There is no room on the scoreboard for style points or points for “potential”.

How hard can it be?

Concussion Management in the NFL: 2011

Concussions are the hot topic in the NFL, as it is with every level of modern-day athletics.  If an athlete in any sport has an opportunity to have his/her head impacted in any way, chances are that head injuries are a concern.

Sunday night’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles showcased the interaction between one of the game’s most dynamic players and the dreaded “C word”.  Eagles’ QB Michael Vick left the game with a concussion after a blow to the head.  Philly’s Head Athletic Trainer Rick Burkholder and his staff are exceptionally qualified to manage his injury.

Michael Vick is not alone with many of his fellow pro ballplayers suffering from concussions during this new 2011 season.

What is the NFL doing to manage concussions?  Let me show you what the NFL medical staffs are doing to protect our players with concussions.

Appreciating the Seriousness of Head Injuries

First of all, it’s important to stress how serious the NFL views concussions.  The NFL league office and all the individual team medical staffs work extremely hard to learn from leaders within the concussion medical community and utilizing the latest advances in concussion management to protect our athletes.

I’m proud to part of the process that has taken great strides in improving all areas of concussion care for athletes at all levels of athletics.  We clearly understand the responsibility that we have at developing a sound concussion model that will immediately impact the manner in which younger athletes will be treated with concussions.  That role is not taken lightly, nor should it be.

Making the Right Call

Here are some of the key steps that the NFL has implemented over the past two years to improve the prevention and treatment of concussions in the NFL:

  • Mandatory educational concussion seminar and conference calls for NFL medical staffs.
  • The formation of the Head, Neck and Spine Committee that continues research all factors related to head and spine injuries for players in the NFL.
  • On-field rule changes to protect vulnerable players.
  • Reinforced the protective medical philosophy towards concussions: “When in doubt, leave them out”.
  • Mandatory involvement of a neutral concussion specialist before any concussed player is allowed to return to play.
  • In-depth documentation for all head injuries is reinforced for individual clubs.
  • Baseline neuropsychological testing to allow for comparative test after a player has suffered from a concussion.
  • Educational posters, in-services, memos and handouts for players, coaches and medical staffs related to the signs and symptoms of concussions, risks factors and resources for additional information related to concussions.
  • New sideline assessment examination to assist in the testing for any player showing signs of a concussion during a game.
  • Implementing the new Madden Rule, where any player who is diagnosed with a concussion must leave the field and be allowed to relax in the team’s athletic training room and away from the noise of the field.

Caring for Craniums, Young & Old

When it comes to football injuries, concussions have changed the game of football.  Today’s medical community understands that and is continuing to take on the challenges facing the management of this injury.  In my opinion, I think the NFL has done an outstanding job of embracing the role of setting the standard that others are watching closely when it comes to concussion management for our youth.  From all levels of the NFL and our medical affiliations, everyone involved with the care of our athletes is willing to work together to improve all aspects of this medical problem.  From the equipment to the pre-concussion baseline testing to the evaluation of a concussed player to the return-to-play protocol, we all know how important the “big picture” is to the health of an athlete.

Everyone in the sports medicine profession realizes that we have a considerable amount of work to do when it comes to concussions.  With that being said, we’re excited about the wonderful advances still to be made which will better protect our athletes, young and old.

 

What I Learned in (Training) Camp This Summer

How Ending the NFL Lockout Changed My Perspective on Sports Medicine

Tonight is the first pre-season game of the awoken 2011 NFL season and no one is more excited than yours truly.  The 120+ day NFL lockout stressed the fans, the players, the team owners and the team support staff members like me.

Unable to treat and care for our Jaguars’ players was a strange position for me as I enter my 24th season employed as an athletic trainer and physical therapist in the NFL.

The players have returned to work approximately 3 weeks ago and resumed their sports medicine treatments with my staff and me.  During these two weeks of training camp I’ve learned many valuable lessons.  These lessons have made me a better therapist and will help me improve the quality of the care that I provide for my followers of MikeRyanFitness.com.

My Learning Points:

#1 – Preventative Care Does More Than Prevent Injuries

Most players will tell you that this lockout made it much more difficult to take care of their injuries.  Typically NFL medical staffs address almost all of their rehabilitation needs twelve month a year.  Peyton Manning stressed that point by saying: “…you can’t use your athletic training room and can’t use your athletic trainer” during the lockout and it slowed his recovery from his neck injury.

Elite sports medicine care enhances performance while significantly reducing injuries in athletes, young and old.

#2 – Knee Pain Doesn’t Care How Old You Are

Knee injuries are a big deal in the NFL.  When our players returned and I was able to assess their medical status after 4 months away, it was interesting to see the changes in knee symptoms.

It showed me knee pain in athletes at any age can be controlled effectively when it is addressed on a consistent basis.  Improving joint range of motion, enhancing lower extremity soft tissue mobility and utilizing the proper combination of ice/heat can reduce knee pain for any and all athletes.

#3 – Roller Are Here to Stay

The players that used rollers had better flexibility and less pain then those that didn’t use them.  It was that simple.

Rollers can be used on any part of the body.  It is an easy way to improve the body’s ability to reduce pain and allow muscles to do their job.  I use them on a daily basis with my athletes and myself.  Today’s smart athletes include soft tissue rollers as a valuable tool to stay healthy.

#4 – Fitness is Not a Passive Process

Some players came back in great shape while others didn’t make fitness a high priority.  A normal off-season program provides a well-structured and organized fitness plan for our players.  There is great value in having such a plan for an athlete.

Fitness, even for a young professional football player, just doesn’t “happen”.  In other words, fitness needs to be an active process and the more time spent working on it the greater the yield.

#5 – Flexibility Never Comes Easy

One key point consistently echoed by my players since they returned after the lockout is that they missed having certified athletic trainers available to keep them loose and flexible.  Specific massages, soft tissue treatments and stretching techniques, normally provided to our the players every day, helps to keep their joints loose and flexible.  Without access to these treatments, most of the players returned with worse flexibility than normal.

This point became obvious to me when I looked at my body.  To improve flexibility it takes a consistent effort.  Not necessarily a large amount of time but consistency is the important element to increase the painfree motion of an athlete’s joints and muscles at any age.

Back Where it All Began

Football gets started tonight for me and the Jacksonville Jaguars tonight right where my dream of becoming a NFL athletic trainer and physical therapist began: Foxboro, Massachusetts. Born 30 minutes north of the stadium, I was the wide-eyed kid in the bleacher seat of Schaefer Stadium with my Red Sox hat on screaming for the Patriots.

These past 4 months have made me realize how important the NFL is to me and how blessed I am to be living my childhood dream.  As for that Sox hat, I still have it.  As for my NFL alliance, it’s no longer the Pats.  Nothing personal….

The Door: Inside the NFL Draft

Oz had the famed Curtain.

Babylon had the mighty Walls.

The NFL has The Door.

Only “Authorized Personnel” are allowed through the NFL Draft Room door. And, everyone knows it.  Often referred to as the “War Room”, the Draft Room is where franchise impact decisions are made and openly discussed.  Hence, the reason why only the chosen few are allowed to enter. I’m lucky to be one of the chosen few. Tomorrow, the NFL will hold it’s annual NFL Draft.

What’s in the Draft Room?

Although it varies from team to team, the secret Draft Board is the Holy Grail of this treasured plot of real estate.  Players are evaluated on every aspect of their game. Many factors such as the overall scouting grade, 40 yard times, workout stats, body size and weight and various intangible grades as well as what I’m responsible for evaluating: medical grades. Everything is clearly listed for each player on the Draft Board.

The higher up the Draft Board a player is positioned, the better the player’s grade. And, hence the more valuable they are.  The grading scale is represented on the side of the board next to a players name.  Therefore, higher graded players are moved “up the board” assuming that they will be picked earlier in the Draft. This is compared to those lower graded players dwelling down next to the plugs on the bottom of the wall.

The variable in any Draft Room is the amount of work and effort that each club puts into this process.   From the tireless hours of traveling and film work put in by the scouts to the painstaking medical grading of up to 900 players by the NFL athletic trainers and physicians to the hundreds of evaluations coordinated by the coaches, that NFL Draft Board is the result of a Herculean effort by many loyal worker bees.

The long Fall season of watching college players perform and the findings from the NFL Combine in February are far behind us now. We now stand on the cusp of knowing who made the grade.

The Secret Sauce of Knowing Who to Draft #1

You didn’t think I could actually disclose the trade secret, did you? Seriously, that answer is too detailed and I’m never going to be the person to disclose that sensitive information.  I’m the “medical guy” and I know my role.

Now comes the exciting part.  This weekend marks the collision of hard work by players who have spent a lifetime cultivating their skills and NFL staffs who have completed their homework to evaluate those players. Our staff will be dreaming of highly skilled and healthy players.  And, personally, I look down the road to see how well my staff’s medical evaluations panned out for players across the league. We evaluated nearly a thousand players and I’m always assessing how players perform medically compared to how we medically graded them.  It’s a great measuring tool to help improve the skills of me and my medical department.  It’s the only way that I’ll continue to be allowed to pass through The Door.

The Mysterious NFL Combine

“I didn’t know there was a 2nd Combine!”

I hear it all the time and somehow the secrecy of this 2nd NFL Combine continues.  No one seems to know about this “other Combine”.

I’m in Indy for this year’s 2nd NFL Combine along with all the NFL medical staffs represented for this important event.  The reason for this Combine is to medically update about 50 Draft eligible players as the Draft quickly approaches.

The truth is this Combine may have more of an impact on the Draft status of many of these players than the 1st Combine did back in late February.  With medical concerns involving most of the players joining us in Indy, the final medical grades from today’s medical exam will quickly move these players up, down or OFF the Draft Boards of 32 potential employers.

This weekend’s NFL Combine has no workouts, no interviews and no cameras.  It takes place in the basement of a hospital and it’s all business.  We have all done our homework and we know almost everything about these players’ medical injuries.  Today is an opportunity for our medical staffs to get our hands on these players to confirm/deny our diagnosis and prognosis to report back to our clubs.

“Oh, there’s a 2nd Combine and I’m excited to get back to preparing to play football!” is always my reply.

That comment has never been so true than it is this year…..