Posts

Five (and 1/2) Lessons I Learned from Maurice Jones-Drew

MoJo with Mike Ryan and his son

This NFL season marked a milestone for me. With twenty-four years in the league, I’ve now spent half my life on the sidelines working in elite sports medicine. To say the least, the 2011-12 NFL season was a turbulent and fascinating one for the Jacksonville Jaguars. We fired our head coach, Jack DelRio, at mid-season. Wayne and Delores Weaver, our founding owners, announced they were selling the team to Shahid Khan. And, we finished with a disappointing 5-11 record. Amazingly, for me, these weren’t the biggest events of my season as the Head Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist.

The statistic that most impacted me was the 31 players that we put on Injured Reserve. Thirty-one!  The NFL allows a team to dress 45 players per game.  During this regular season, the Jags activated 74 different players! This is more turnover than your local McDonald’s. Needless to say, my medical staff and I were busy managing a boatload of injuries this season.

NFL Leading Rusher

Despite all of this internal turmoil, our season’s shining star was Maurice Jones-Drew.  The NFL’s leading rusher is also the heart & soul of our team. MJD overcame a serious knee injury last season to play in all 16 regular season games this year.  My job was to rehabilitate his knee, manage all his new injuries and to keep him healthy every day and ensure he was ready to compete on Sunday.  This was further complicated with the NFL lockout this season. And, it’s further burdened when your guy is a 5′ 7″ running back who gets punished nearly all of the 343 times he touched the ball. It’s a testament to him he lead the league with 1606 yards.

When I have the opportunity to interact with successful people, I’ve made it a life habit of learning from them.  During this season, I’ve spent more time with Maurice Jones-Drew than I have with my own wife. As you might imagine, when you spent that much time together, you really gain appreciation and insight into the player – and the man. He is a true professional who prepares like a madman for each and every game. And, his preparation drives results in an NFL leading 1606 rushing yards and his 3rd straight Pro Bowl season.

MoJo is a fun guy to be around, but don’t let his electric smile and playful demeanor fool you.  He’s an intelligent guy from UCLA with enormous, tree-trunk legs and even bigger life goals.  MoJo is a winner. And, he’s just getting started.

Here’s are five (and 1/2) lessons I learned from MoJo this season:

1.  Have a Big Carrot

Visualizing a clear goal or, as I like to call it, “focusing on your carrot”, provides a path to success and is a critical part of the plan for MoJo.  He always has to prove himself to others in this “big man’s” sport. For MoJo, establishing a motivational plan before he steps into the locker room for his first practice is an enormous reason why he is so successful.

2.  Believe in Yourself First

Maurice wastes little energy worrying about what others think about him.  He believes in himself first.

Call “IT” pride or confidence or courage, but you clearly see “IT” every time MJD puts his hands on the football.  You see no doubt or fear when he runs with the ball into the heart of an angry defensive line.  He believes strongly in himself and his abilities. And, it’s for great reason.

3.  Know What You Need

#32 knows exactly what he needs to prepare himself for battle and to perform at an elite level each and every game.  Make no mistake about it. He’s in charge and I’m working with him not on him.

Before our second to last game this season in Tennessee,  he had an injury that we treated throughout the week.  Before the game, I taped the injury in a manner that I thought was perfect. It was based on my experience and the projected stress on that body part.  (Yes, can you tell that I’m not going to disclose the injury?)  After one play, he limped off the field and made it very clear to me EXACTLY how he wanted the injury taped.  My twenty-four years in the NFL didn’t matter because he knew what he needed to do his job.  I love that about him because THAT type of feedback is priceless for sports medicine specialists like me working with world-class athletes.

4.  Pain Is Part of the Game

When your body is getting pounded by large men, it makes sense that your body will hurt and pain will often wake you up before the alarm clock.  MJD understands that aspect and he uses that pain as an important source of feedback.  The type and location of the pain is used to help us direct both his rehab and preparation each week.  We had games this year on Sundays, Mondays, Thursday and Saturday. With an erratic game schedule, it made it difficult to create consistency in rehab. MJD’s subjective perspective on that “pain meter” creates insight that allows me to help him.

5.  Honesty is the Best Buffer

Maurice has been blessed with the gift of gab and everyone knows it.  His honesty is refreshing.  He speaks his mind and he will always be open with his opinion.  I’ve learned to have thick skin since 1988, my first year in the NFL.  With that being said, I find MoJo’s open and honest communication style a perfect method to help me properly manage an agressive sports medicine rehab program for a high-level athlete.

Bonus 1/2 Pearl, Because Even MoJo Doesn’t Know This Yet…..

5 1/2.  He Loves to Work Hard

I’m sure MJD will laugh at this one because he is so focused on preparing for the next game.  Maurice LOVES to be challenged with impossible workouts and then have his toughness questioned for his ability to complete the workout.  That’s when the fun begins…

He always comes right back at me with an impressive barrage of verbal assaults.  As long as I don’t back down to his request to change the plan, the challenge is on!  Whether it’s a brutal core medicine ball workout or an interval swimming program, he’ll quickly think about it, put his game face on and then he’ll attack the exercise as if it’s a 4th-and-goal running play with the game on the line. And everyone in the northern hemisphere knows who’s getting the ball…

If I was the coach, I wouldn’t give it to anyone else.

When an ACL Surgery & Rehab Goes Bad

Anterior cruciate ligament tears have become too common.  Most non-professional athletes just assumes that an ACL surgery is a simple procedure with little chance that anything could go wrong.

ACL reconstructions (ACLR) are often thought about in a similar manner as the Space Shuttle program was five years ago.  This huge 240,000 lbs space ship would be launched into space at over 17,000 mph and it might only get a quick 30 second side-comment on the local news.

It’s not that simple and when there is a problem, with an ACLR or with the space shuttle, the results are not good.

Here’s a look at a present ACL reconstruction situation with a friend of mine that will show you what happens when all doesn’t go according to the plan.  She’s struggling to get her knee and her athletic career back on track.

The Background

“Katie” is an athletic 42 years old rockin’ soccer player at the time of her ACL tear in June 2011.  She gave me permission to share her story with MikeRyanFitness readers.

Katie had ACL surgery reconstruction (ACLR) in mid-July 2011 with an allograft.  I was surprised to see that she used a tibialis anterior tendon from a cadaver.  When this form of harvesting tissue from the surgical patient themselves, it is referred to as an autograft.

Initial Rehab

Braced in week #1 along with ice, very little weight-bearing and no physical therapy.

Katie’s rehab started during week #2 with 50% weight-bearing, strengthening exercise only in open chain (foot off the ground) and range of motion (ROM) drills.

The brace was removed during week #4, full weight-bearing was started, only open chain exercises continued, ice and starting Russian Stimulation using an electric stimulator to aid in muscle strength.

Time for Concern

During the start of week #5, the surgeon expressed concern with the limited ROM.

His Plan:  He drained fluid out of the knee, gave her a cortisone injection and instructed physical therapist to implement closed chain activities, which is a great way to rehab ACLR patients by exercising them with their feet on the ground.

The Result

Katie has endured dozens of hours of painful rehab with minimal improvement and few examples of improvement.

“My frustration is mostly due to the inconsistency in treatment and shifting focus constantly with my rehab plan…”

This 10 to 14 week phase of rehab should be the exciting part of her knee marathon but it has turned into a painful and stressful time for Katie.

The knee remains significantly stiff, swollen and limited in range (limited by approximately 10 degrees from full extension).  Katie complains of pain during all activities and while at rest.  Her family and social lives are significantly limited.  It’s understandable that Katie is frustrated with her care and her inability to remain active.

The Plan

Her doctor wants to perform an arthroscopic surgery (“a scope”) in the next two weeks to remove scar tissue, based on the recent MRI.  I assume some form of a manipulation may be performed at the same time to regain needed ROM after the scar tissue is removed and while the Katie remains under anesthesia.

“I have let this knee consume me for months and I finally just took a mental vacation from it the past few weeks.”

After the scope, rehab will continue immediately.  A continuous passive motion (CPM) may be utilized to help the knee to remain in motion while Katie is resting and sleeping.  I think the CPM is a great tool to help maintain ROM and decrease pain.

My Advice to Katie

  • Have a detailed discussion with the surgeon before the ACL surgery.  Ask the important question:

“What do you expect to find in my knee and what are my options in managing these findings?”

“What kind of ACL surgery graft will you use with me and how many of these types of surgeries do you perform every year?”

 “Do I need a micro-fracture surgery?”

  • Your articular cartilage may be damaged and it may be the reason why you’re having so much pain and swelling.
  • Excess scar tissue is not too common but I’ve seen it with pro football players.  They did very well after a scar tissue removal scope.
  • After the scope, start your aggressive rehab ASAP. (note the capital letters!)
  • Use a CPM machine as much as possible.
  • Seek the opinions of other knee doctors and physical therapist in your area.  Remember that it’s your knee that’s in turmoil so stop worrying about their feelings.
  • As for the mental vacation, it’s needed and truly justified.  Get your mind “right” because you still have some heavy work ahead of you, Katie.
  • Keep your quad strong!!  Gains in quad strength may come in smaller chunks after the scope but it may prove to be the #1 variable if you want to be an athlete for the next 30 years.
  • From what you’ve been thru, the next phase will be a bit easier and MUCH more rewarding.

Mike Ryan’s Sports Medicine Tips for an ACLR Rehab Plan

  1. Research your doctor and his/her exact surgical technique before your ACL surgery.
  2. Get a copy of your surgeon’s WRITTEN rehab protocol before your ACL surgery.
  3. Meet your physical therapist and review your rehab protocol with her/him.  Ideally, schedule 1-3 rehab appointments with your therapist before the surgery to increase both knee ROM and quad strength
  4. Plan on a marathon.  Get your body and mind right to put in the necessary work for 6-9 months to successfully put this injury in your rearview mirror.
Let’s all wish Katie the best of luck with her ongoing ordeal.  I keep bragging to her about how smart my followers are so please share your thoughts & suggestions with Katie as she continues to follow this blog during her rehab.

The Inside Scoop on ACL Tears

Mechanism for an ACL Tear

The evolution of sports has proved to be a fascinating and often amusing combination of creativity, science and hype.  From the lightest of high-tech equipment to the craziest of celebrations, the world of athletics is changing every year.

In the minds of those involved in sports, some aspects remain the same.  One of those constants is the impact of the three most feared letters in sports.  Those letters linger in the minds of the athletes, coaches, team owners and the fans themselves.  They all brace for the injury reports hoping not to hear those three dreadful letters.  They all know the significant downtime needed to recover from these alphabet season assassins.  No one talks about it but we all know that when these three letters “come to town”, this athlete’s season is over.

ACL

There they are.  Although not everyone knows what the three letters stand for, we all hope that our anterior cruciate ligaments remain strong and healthy for our entire lifetime.  An ACL or anterior cruciate ligament tear requires 6 to 9 months of intense rehab with no guarantee that the athlete will fully recover.  Those two simple facts justify the reason why we all fear a torn ACL.

ACL Tear Success Story

During the 2009 season Tom Brady, All-Pro quarterback for the New England Patriots, returned from an ACL tear that took place during the 2008 season.  The media and the fans spent most of the off-season pondering the questions:  “Can Tom fully recover from this surgery and will he be the same superstar player that he was before the injury?”

The wait is over and Tom has returned to his winning ways with two outstanding seasons since he was helped from the field in pain with an anterior cruciate ligament tear.  To put an exclamation point to his successful recovery, Tom was recently awarded the 2010-11 NFL Most Valuable Player Award.  It’s a true credit to Tom’s dedication to his profession and the Pat’s Head Athletic Trainer Jim Whalen and his staff’s efforts.

ACL and Its Role in Stabilizing Your Knee

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the key stabilizing ligament in the knee.  The ACL starts at the distal posterior lateral (back and outside) femur (thigh bone) and crosses the knee joint and attaches to the proximal anterior medial (upper front and inside) tibia (shin bone).  The ACL is one of the two internal knee cruciate ligaments that serve to stabilize the forward/backward shifting of the knee along with a considerable rotational controlling function to the most common injured joint in sports.

The ACL’s most important role is to keep the skin bone properly positioned under the thigh bone by applying a backwards force to the shin bone when the athlete is decelerating and changing directions.  With an ACL tear, this shifting and rotational instability are the most common complaints of someone who has a torn ACL.

Knowing the Truth about an ACL Tear

Now that the formal medical stuff is covered, let’s talk about the reality of the ACL and how it impacts you as an athlete.

Personally, I’ve been involved with the rehabilitation of close to eighty high-level athletes with ACL injuries.  Over 90% of the outcomes of these athletes who required ACL reconstruction surgery has been outstanding.  The average length of time for a full recovery and return to full and unlimited activity has been approximately 8 months.  Depending upon the time of year and the NFL schedule, a quicker recovery is easily possible.  I’ve worked with professional athletes who have returned to full speed in almost half that time. Sometimes that is not always a good thing and I’ll address that in upcoming articles.

With a more aggressive return to full activity, the risks of tendonitis, chronic swelling and articular cartilage complications are often increased as well.

To Brace or Not to Brace

Preventative bracing before you get hurt for high-risk players is a smart decision.  Knee braces may appear bulky but when a brace is fitted properly and the athlete becomes comfortable wearing the brace, few athletes will notice that they are wearing a brace.  Research clearly shows that a properly fitted knee brace will not limited agility movement or negatively affect a football player’s ability to perform.  Especially when the sport includes contact such as football and hockey, preventative knee bracing is the practice of the wise athlete who wants to stay active for a long, long time!

The various types of ACL tear surgeries and the rehabilitation of an ACL tear are topics for future MRF articles.  The objective for this article is to help you shed light on the sports medicine facts related to anterior cruciate ligament tears.

Telling the Athlete the Bad News

No athlete wants to hear a certified athletic trainer or doctor tell him/her “…your ACL is torn and your season is over.” I’ve personally been that person dozens of times who has looked into the eyes of elite professional athletes to give them that very same message.   Their tears say it all.

I was involved in the HBO show called Hard Knocks with the Jaguars in 2004.  During one of the episodes they aired a gripping live scene of me telling an emotional player on the practice field that he had a torn ACL and his season was over.  I love my players and moments like that never get any easier for me.

Questions to Ask About an ACL Tear

A smart professional athlete with a torn ACL who wants to safely return to his/her sport will ask his sports medicine specialist the following questions:

  1. How much of my ACL is torn?
  2. What medical grade, from 1 to 3, would you grade my instability for the following tests for both knees?
    1. Lachman Test
    2. Valgus Stress Test at 30 degrees.
    3. Anterior Drawer Tests
    4. Posterior Drawer Test
  3. If you are recommending an ACL reconstructive (ACLR) surgery, which type of surgery and why?
  4. Who do you recommend to coordinate my treatment?
  5. Do you recommend that I wear a brace for future athletic events?

Tips to Have a Successful Recovery from an ACL Tear

  1. No Special Pill – A torn ACL is what it is.  No one has invented any special ACL vitamins or specific exercise to make the ligament stronger.  Training properly and protective knee braces may prove to be your best medicine.
  2. Coaching Tip – The best prevention principle for ACL tears is to slowly progress with the fundamental basics of your sport to ensure that your lower extremity strength and flexibility are optimal.
  3. Where the Rubber Meets the Road – Proper shoe wear is crucial to avoid too little or too much traction.  Both of which would negatively impact the knee stability.
  4. Surgery? – If you suffer a torn ACL and your future plans include being active at a moderate to high level, reconstructive surgery is highly recommended.
  5. “Pop’s” Are Not Good – According to research, 60% of athletes who hear a “pop” in their knee have an ACL tear.

How Professional Athletes Successfully Treat Knee ITB Syndrome

Running With ITB Syndrome

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), or Illiotibial band tendonitis, is a frustrating and troubling injury.  Because of it’s common mechanism of injury involves repetitive knee flexion and extension, it is often associated with runners.

Personally, ITB syndrome has proved to be one of the most difficult injury that I’ve dealt with as an athlete.

The IT band is a sheath of dense fibrous connective tissue which originates on its upper end to the tensor fascia latae muscle on the upper outer thigh.  The ITB extends down the lateral thigh and inserts into the outer surfaces of both the fibula and tibia bones of the shin. The function of the IT band is to help extend the knee joint, externally rotating the upper leg along with abducting of the hip.

Illiotibial band tendonitis is usually a result of the ITB being inflamed with excess friction of the ITB passing over the lateral epicondyle (the bony ridge on the outer distal thigh bone) of the femur (thigh bone).  With a repetitive knee movement like running or secondary trauma, the rubbing of this tissue over the hard bony ridge will result in inflammation and movement discomfort.

Signs and Symptoms of Runner’s Knee/Iliotibial Band Syndrome

  • Pain on the outside of the knee above, at or below the lateral knee joint line.
  • An increased tenderness with palpation(note: palpation is a method of clinical examination using gentle pressure of the fingers to detect growths, changes and unusual tissue reactions)of the iliotibial band.
  • An inability to squat through a full range of motion because of lateral distal thigh pain and weakness.
  • Knee pain normally aggravated by running, particularly downhill.
  • Pain during flexion or extension of the knee with both the foot on and off the ground.

How to Professionally Treat Iliotibial Band Syndrome

  • Apply cold therapy with ice bags, ice massage or ice bath.
  • Rest the knee and lower extremity from running, quad strengthening and painful activities.
  • Implement self myofascial mobilization and massage techniques such as rolling the thigh, lateral thigh and calves.
  • Aggressive flexibility of the IT band and the entire lower extremity including the ankle, great toe and low back.
  • Lateral knee and thigh massage is an effective treatment to reduce painful ITB tightness.
  • Assessing leg length and foot biomechanics bilaterally.  It is common to trace the source of lateral knee pain to a leg length difference or excessive pronation involving one leg.(Pronation means that the feet roll inward and cause the ankles to turn in.)
  • A thorough analysis of the athlete’s training program

Asking the Right Questions With Lateral Knee Pain

When faced with runner’s knee or Illiotibial band tendonitis, the wise professional athlete who wants to safely return to his/her sport and avoid further injury will ask his sports medicine specialist the following questions:

  1. Are you certain of the diagnosis?
  2. Do I need an MRI to rule out any other problems?
  3. What are the best options with treating this injury?
  4. What can I expect with this injury for the next 2, 4 and 6 weeks?
  5. Who do you consider to be the expert knee rehab specialist in this area?
  6. Will I be given a detailed rehabilitation protocol to direct my rehab for both my therapist and me?

Tips For Successful Iliotibial Band Treatment

  • Minimize the Damage – Illiotibial Band Syndrome is not an injury that you can just grit your teeth and run through.  Be smart early and avoid creating additional injuries.
  • Look Elsewhere – IT band tendonitis is often a result of a mechanical problem elsewhere.  Look above: hip & low back…..or below:…arch, ankle or great toe.  Don’t forget to look at your shoes!
  • Ice is Your Friend – It’s a reality check:  Ice hurts but it’s exactly what you need for this injury.  The Pro’s will tell you that ice is their best teammate.  Stop complaining and do what you know you need….ICE and lots of it.
  • Lighten up, Coach! – An athlete suffering from IT Band Syndrome is usually training very hard.  A common theme with this injury is that you do not have enough recovery time during the week or you are progressing too aggressively with your workouts.  Getting your coach, which sometimes refers to YOU, to work with you on this is a key step in getting this painful injury in your rearview mirror. A thorough analysis of your athlete’s workout plan is a great start.
  • How Long? – This may be one of the toughest injuries to put a recovery timeframe on.  The downtime from lateral knee pain associated with IT Band Syndrome is significantly reduced if you treat the injury early and modify painful activities while treating the injury as noted above.

Osgood Schlatters: Managing Youth Patella Pain

Painful Osgood Schlatters Disease

He has this huge bump below his knee, his doctor says he’ll grow out of it but it hurts him all the time.  What should we do?’ his mother said, frustratingly seeking an answer.

Following a fund raising golf tournament recently a good friend of mine came to me looking for a clear answer for a strange injury with a bizarre name.  Her athletic teenager had an overly large bony lump just below his right knee.  He was 16 years old, still growing and she was understandingly concerned about her son’s knee.

Osgood Schlatters Disease is an orthopedic disorder that results in an enlarged tibial tuberosity just below the front of the knee.  The tibial tuberosity is the lower attachment of the patella tendon.  Because of the excessive forces generated by the quadriceps (muscles located in the front of the thigh) muscles, the load is transferred to the patella (kneecap) and directly to the tibial tubercle on the tibia (shin bone).

Patella injuries are usually a mechanical injury.  In a simplistic manner, when these muscles are contracted, the forces are applied to the tibial tuberosity and the knee is extended.  That’s the easy part.

A growth plate is typically a location at the end of most long bones.   At a growth plate, a cartilaginous ring allows for the growth of the bone.

Chondromalacia is commonly associated with many types of patella injuries.

Here comes the interesting part…..a growth plate is located at the tibial tuberosity.  Therefore, when an active teenager creates excessive forces at the knee with activities such as jumping, squatting, running, trauma,…etc., the rate and the direction of the growth at that tibial growth plate can easily be altered.  Hence, the bump gets larger and more painful.

Patella injuries are successful resolved when addressed promptly. With an early onset of Osgood Schlatters, if the young athlete rests the area for 2-4 weeks and avoids the specific sports activities that worsen his pain, his symptoms will resolve themselves.

Osgood Schlatters and chondromalacia are similar in the fact that when these conditions occur, the athlete is typically predisposed to having symptoms in the future.  With Osgood Schlatters, when the athlete stops growing and his growth plates mature or “close”, the athlete has much less problems with the injury other than the cosmetic appearance and mechanical issues of an enlarged tibial tubercle.

Suggestions to Alleviate Osgood Schlatters Pain

  1. See his doctor to clearly diagnose this problem and to “rule out the bad stuff.”
  2. Ice his knee after every workout and competition.
  3. Become a flexibility machine.  My advice on flexibility: start young and stick to it.
  4. Avoid aggressive leg strengthening exercises and agility work whenever possible.
  5. Rest the knees.  A little rest now will help him avoid missing large chunks of time later.

I think this young man will do well if he follows this advice.  The Osgood Schlatters will quiet down in time.  Meanwhile, the enlarged tibial tubercle will probably not return to its normal size.

As with most sports injuries, the earlier you address the problem the quicker they quiet down.  Being smart now will ensure that you will be active and healthy later!