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Athletic Training Student Tips for Football Training Camps

For every athletic training student, this time of year is one of great excitement and stress.  Football training camps in the NFL and college are almost here.  Hundreds of student athletic trainers are preparing for the biggest career-altering opportunity of their lives.  Taking care of NFL and college football players is no easy task.

I spent four summers as a athletic training student so I know exactly what these young dream-filled men and women are going through. While earning my athletic training and physical therapy degrees at Central Connecticut State University and UConn respectively, I worked one football training camp at Columbia University and three training camps for my mentor Ronnie Barnes with the New York Giants.  Every one of those long days taught me valuable professional lessons.  The camps opened the door to pursue my childhood dream of a career as an athletic trainer in the NFL.

I want to help every football training camp athletic training intern to succeed during their upcoming camp this summer.  To do so, I went to the top of the athletic training food chain.

I surveyed all 32 NFL head athletic trainers and 12 top college football athletic trainers with one simple question:

“What is the one trait or skill you view as most valuable for your best athletic training intern?”

Dear Athletic Training Student, Here’s what your new bosses are looking for:

Work Ethics – This was by far the #1 most valued trait. Athletic training students are the workhorses for athletic training departments at every level. If you truly want a career in athletic training, NOW is the time to prove it.  It’s time to work hard, work fast and work long….7 days per week.

Passion – The “head guys” want people around them who are truly passionate about their daily tasks, their careers and their lives.  They don’t want you to just put on a happy face.  Training camp passion is much deeper.  Full-time athletic trainers want their interns to have positive energy and excitement about being exactly where they are right now!

Strong Listening Skills – Master the ability to hear directions from the staff the first time you’re told and to be disciplined enough to do your job with accuracy.

Strong Knowledge of Anatomy – As I always told my assistants and interns: “It all comes down to anatomy.” Having a strong understanding of human anatomy makes you a better taper, evaluator, rehabber, strength coach, athlete and communicator.

Hands-on Skills – Helping with massages, joint mobs, flexibility techniques and manual therapy will quickly showcase your value to both the medical staff and the players themselves.

Attitude of Gratitude – Being grateful for the opportunity to work with elite athletes in a high-intensity work setting is a gift.  Grateful souls always appreciate those rare blessings.

Endurance – Being lively during the first few days of camp is easy. Your boss is looking for a rock star student athletic trainer who will be strong, focused and energetic in weeks 2, 3 & 4 when everyone else is tired, irritable and sore.

An Interest to Learn & Grow – Do you want to be a full-time athletic trainer in college or the NFL? If so, embrace your training camp role, no matter how basic the tasks may be.  Show a sincere willingness to learn about the profession and grow as a valuable member of your staff.  Be a learning sponge!

Focused – “The intern that can work without being distracted is the intern I want.” is a quote from an NFL head athletic trainer.

Skills to Be Left at Home

These were traits/skills none of the top athletic trainers saw in their top students….the very same students they look to when hiring assistant athletic trainers in the future.  Therefore, smart athletic training interns will avoid these common mistakes.

Social Media – “..they are not here to post, tweet, Instagram or Snapchat… you are here to work and make an impression that could change your career and life as an athletic trainer.”

Cell Phone Lovers – Leave your cell phones in your hotel/dorm room.  Your sweetheart, BFF, FaceBook and email can wait until 11 PM for an update.

Self-pity – With 90+ athletes to worry about, the medical staff can’t be concerned with your sore feet or tape cuts. How you handle yourself during the next 4-5 weeks working this very challenging camp will show your boss and assistants if you’re just looking for a cool summer job or the start of a long-term exciting career.

Closing Message to Athletic Training Interns

Training camp won’t be easy for you, the medical staff, the players or the coaches; nor should it be.  Training camp is a weeding-out process for anyone not willing to outwork and outperform others vying for a limited number of roles with their football team.  Training camp is an opportunity to find out who really wants to be there.

This August is your training camp. If you’re willing to work hard and apply the above priceless advice from leaders in the world of athletic training, this training camp may prove to be your launch pad for the career of your dreams!

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.

Inside the NFL Concussion Protocol

football-pro-21561452_1920You hear it every Sunday, watching an NFL player escorted to the locker room after taking a big hit to the head: “He’s in the NFL concussion protocol”.

Concussions increased by 58% in the 2015 regular season games compared to 2014.  There were 182 reported concussions in NFL regular season games last season.

Game Day Concussion Questions

How are the players evaluated in such a chaotic environment? Who makes the call to determined if the player returns to the game or to hit the showers?  These questions remain a mystery for most NFL fans.

Let me share with you what the NFL game day concussion management plan looks like from inside the NFL medical departments.

Player takes a concerning hit the head….

Step 1:  Intervene

The team medical staff is notified of a potential head injury by themselves, the player, the ATC Spotter(s) in the skybox, teammate, game official, or coach.

Step 2:  Screen

Player is removed from the game and a sidelines evaluation is initiated.  This involves at least one of the team physicians and the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant (UNC).  The UNC is easy to spot, sporting the now mandatory blue hat.  Typically a team athletic trainer is included in this discussion as well.  The medical staff has access to the sideline Injury Video Review System monitor.  This allows the medical staff to visually review slow-motion angles of the injury play.

Step 3:  Decide

If no concussion, neck injury or concerning injury is confirmed, the player is cleared by the team physician to return to the game.  If the medical staff and UNC have any concern for a potential concussion, the player is escorted to the locker room with the UNC.  When the injured player leaves the field with the UNC for a concussion evaluation, by definition, he is now “in the NFL Concussion Protocol”.

Step 4:  Evaluate

Now in the quiet team Athletic Training Room and away from the stimulus-heavy game field, the UNC and team medical staff performs a more comprehensive neurological evaluation.  This phase of the assessment includes a sophisticated concussion tablet-based test.  This test takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.  Every NFL player has taken this test previously during the non-contact off-season.

This tablet concussion test grades key brain variables such as visual memory, processing speed and reaction speed along with assessing concussion-like symptoms.  The player’s new game day grades are compared to his previous baseline test scores to quickly determine if his brain functions have been altered in any way.

Step 5:  Diagnose

Based on the results of the tablet concussion test scores, physical examination tests such as balance, eye tracking and verbal recall and the subjective feedback from the player, the team physician and UNC will answer one simple question: “Does the player have a concussion?”

  • If the answer is YES:  The player is ruled “Out” for the game and he remains in the locker room area accompanied by a medical staff member.
  • If the answer is NO:  The player is allowed to return to the sideline for continued evaluation, skill drills and discussions with the medical staff about his symptoms and his play status.

Return to Play?

The ultimate decision on the NFL player’s return to play status is not made solely by the Unaffiliated Neurotraauma Consultant.  The final call on whether the player is given back his helmet and allowed to return to the game is made by the Head Team Physician and, ultimately, the player himself.

 

 

 

NFL Rookie Hamstrings Beware

football-1518160_960_720

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.

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.

 

Time For Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

NFL Players’ Access to Certified Athletic Trainers in High Schools

_HFS4211I often talk to our Jacksonville Jaguars players about their past experience with injuries and sports medicine care.  From their days playing ball in midget football to the NFL, they’ve had wide-ranging sports medicine experiences from the outstanding treatment to bizarre home remedies.

Fellow Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) members and I collected the statistics on almost 1200 current NFL players’ exposure to certified athletic trainers (ATC) from when the players were in high schools.  I found it interesting how varied their experiences were when it came to the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of sports related injuries during their teenage years.

The Structure

We made the determination that players 25 years old or under to be the “younger” grouping and 26 years old or more to be the “older” players.

Next, within those two age groupings, we surveyed the NFL players to see how many of them had exposure to a certified athletic trainer, part-time or full-time, for their high school practices and/or games.

The Numbers

The Total number of players surveyed:     1161

Players age 26 or higher:     529 or 45.6%

Players age 25 or younger:     632 or 54.4%

Total players who had a high school ATC:     79.7%

Total players who DID NOT have a high school ATC:     20.3%

 

Players age 26 or higher who had a high school ATC:     383 or 33.0%

Players age 26 or higher who DID NOT have a high school ATC:     146 or 12.6%

Players age 25 or younger who had a high school ATC:     542 or 46.7%

Players age 25 or younger who DID NOT have a high school ATC:     90 or 7.8%

The Questions

This project created some interesting questions when it comes to the impact of a certified athletic trainer on both the short-term and long-term success of an athlete.  These are some of the main questions which arose with this survey and I look forward to hearing the comments on these questions from my readers.

  1. Does the involvement of a certified athletic trainer in the care of a young athlete enhance the long-term success of that athlete?
  2. How beneficial is a certified athletic trainer in preventing injuries that may have otherwise limited the athlete’s ability to earn a scholarship and continue their athletic career to the next level?
  3. How many young athletes, who had no exposure to a certified athletic trainer, had preventable injuries which derailed their ability to reach their potential as an athlete?
  4. How much did the involvement of a certified athletic trainer positively impact the lives and careers of our present NFL players?  In other words, how much did an early exposure to an ATC educate these NFL players on topics such as nutrition, proper strengthening techniques, heat & hydration, staph infections, sports psychology, injury prevention, athletic taping, and injury management contribute to their success?

The Summary

I was not surprised to see that almost 80% of our athletes had a certified athletic trainer in high school.  I did find it interesting that 85.8% of the younger NFL players compared to only 72.4% of the older players had an ATC in high school.

Beyond the numbers and the stats, the best part to come out of this project was the words of overwhelming support, admiration, gratitude and sincere respect these professional athletes had for their high school certified athletic trainers.  They shared stories of how their high school ATC’s changed their lives for the better with their skills, knowledge and compassion.

The stories of these world-class athletes’ beginnings reinforces why so many of us decided to become a certified athletic trainer: to positively enhance the lives of athletes.   To the thousands of ATC’s who have touched the lives of these NFL players:  Mission Accomplished!

Simple Steps to Eliminate Back Pain

Low back - male 48A few days ago a coworker came to me complaining of low back pain.  You know the drill: Stabbing pain with forward bending, spasms grabbing when you move too fast, a sensation that your legs will give out on you when walking down stairs and the agonizing stiffness that comes when you try to stand up after sitting.  Pain in the back no fun and it can literally change your life…for the worse!

As I explained simple steps to help his back pains, I realized how common it is for most adults to have low back pain with little knowledge how to get back pain relief.  I saw it as a great example to share with my readers.   Here are my helpful tips to decrease low back pain and regain the active lifestyle we all enjoy.

Common Symptoms of a Low Back Injury

Spasm – Secondary to pain and the body’s need to protect itself, your brain will fire-up muscles around the spine to involuntarily contract to stabilize and protect the spine.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to Ctrl/Alt/Delete the spasms off!

Pain – There are many types of back pain based on the type of tissue (disk, nerve, bone, muscle, ligament or fascia) causing the pain.  The pain can range from stabbing, aching, shooting, pain down the leg, leg numbness, “catching” in the back and/or general tightness throughout the low back and hips.

Weakness – Low back, hips, Abs and/or leg.

Uncertainty – The concerning sense that you don’t have control of your back and it could “just give out” on you at any time is stressful.

Tightness – The inability to stand erect with proper posture to function normally in life, especially after sitting for a period of time.

Tips for Back Pain Relief

I want to share with you the tips I gave my friend that will both decrease your symptoms and improve your function when suffering from pain in the back.

Sleep Hard – Sleep on a very hard surface, even if it’s the floor. Unless bouncing on the bed with a glass of red wine balancing on the other side of your bed is part of your nightly foreplay routine, I suggest you get off the memory foam bed for a couple of weeks.  Having your entire back stabilized on a hard surface is just what you need.  Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees or sleeping on your back with pillows under your knees are my suggestions for smart sleep positions with low back pain.

Stretch the Hammies – This is a key step to eliminating low back pain. Flexible hamstrings allow your pelvis to move into positions it WANTS to be in to get away from the pain.  With tight hamstrings, the pelvis is anchored down and most of the movement associated with the core tends to come from the low back, which becomes more painful.

Strengthen the Abs – Your abdominal muscles or “Abs” are the workhorses of the back and pelvis. Strong Abs absorb a large chunk of the force applied to the low back while they support the front half of the spine.  To make the Abs strong when the back is sore, focus on variations of crunches to do this. With crunches, I like to keep 3 body parts in direct contact with the floor to both minimize the risk of injury and to isolate the Abs: Feet, Butt & Low Back.

Great Body Mechanics – Like I told my friend, most people don’t hurt their back lifting a car off an elderly lady.  They “throw their back out” tying their shoe or picking up the newspaper.  To keep it simple, good body mechanics is defined as maintaining a strong “C Curve” in the low back with the open side of the “C” facing backwards.  If is faces the front when the spine is looked at from the side view, that is “slouching” with poor posture.  If you maintain this Good Curve with everything you do from sitting to picking up your children to brushing your teeth, your back will thank you.

Ice/Heat? – I’ll make it easy to remember: For the first week after suffering a back injury, only apply ICE to your back.  After the first week, if you have any spasms, pain, and/or pain down the leg, stay with ICE.  If your only complaint is “tightness” and you want to loosen up the back, HEAT is your best option.  If every in doubt, go with ICE.  Remember, ICE is not comfortable and it will make your back tight for a short period of time after a treatment.  That’s okay when your objective is to decrease inflammation and pain.

Medications – As you know from reading my blog posts, I’m not a big fan of popping pills.  I’m a strong believer that my body doesn’t want to be in pain and, if I keep it strong, allow it to move properly, fuel it with healthy nutrition and listen to what it’s telling me, it will do a damn good job managing much of the pain.  If you feel you need pain medicine or anti-inflammatory medicine, I suggest you talk to your doctor about the options.

Ending Back Pains…..

Low back pain can be one of the most debilitating injuries for both athletes and couch potatoes.  The tips in this article will prove to be helpful for both managing a back injury and for preventing back pain when your back is feeling great.  Low back pain finds 80% of us in our lifetime so applying this advice may help you hang out with the fun 20% with the happy backs.

Upcoming Sports Medicine Tips!

Sports medicine logo 27I stopped by Home Depot on the way home from work last night.  This time of the year in the NFL, I have to do most of my home project shopping at night.  I ran into a friend of mine who was in obvious pain.  He had low back pain that was hurting him 24/7.  He asked for my help to decrease his lumbar pain.

I showed with him 2 quick sports medicine tips while standing in the “Electrical Supply” section of Home Depot.  The first tip was to increase his pain-free low back range of motion and the second low back technique is specifically designed to decrease his lumbar pain.  Bill’s pain quickly decreased “a ton” and he gratefully thank me.  It’s always very satisfying to me to help those in pain regain their lives back!

My friend Bill called me early the next morning enthusiastically bragging about how much better he felt.  This is the best part of my job, when I see someone healthy and happy after being so debilitated.  All it took was about 5 minutes of my time to share simple sports medicine techniques that my staff and I use each and every day with our NFL players.

“I knew you were good at what you do, Mike” he said respectfully, “but I was truly amazed how simple your techniques were and how quickly I felt 70% better”.  He went on to say: “You need to tell more people about your physical therapy tricks like I did last night to help them to get better like that” he said snapping his fingers.

I receive about 3-5 sports medicine questions a day from friends, coworkers, friends of friends,…etc via phone, in person, text or email.  I view it as an honor that so many trust my medical opinion and I love helping their efforts to be healthy again.  It takes little time yet the rewards for both sides of the problem are huge.  That’s always been my motivation to create and build MikeRyanFitness.com.

What Am I Going to Do About It?

My friend was right.  I need to expand my Personal Mission Statement: To Enhance the Health of Others by going SMALL.

Starting today, I will be Tweeting and posting on my FaceBook page short and effective sports medicine tips.  These Tweets will obviously be 140 characters or less so they will be simple and to the point to help you get back to being an athlete again ASAP.  I’m excited to share with you quick weekly #SportsMedTip that are designed in the MikeRyanFitness manner:  They are easy to understand,  simple to apply & provide fast result!

I Need Your Help

My goal is to positive influence 2,000,000 people by the end of 2013.  If you like my sports medicine posts and you think they can help others, please take a couple of minutes to share them with others.  By doing so, you’re helping me to help others.

Please keep the questions and comments coming.  The feedback from you the moms and the dads, the athletes young and old, the runners and the basketball players,…etc that help me to provide you the type of sports medicine advice to keep you in the game.

Thank you!     MDR