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.

Top 5 Factors Causing Hamstring Strains

Source: Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

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

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

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

Training Camp Strained Hamstrings

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

What the Hell are the Hamstrings?

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

Simplifying the Function of the Hammies:

(in order of their importance for a football player)

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

Terminology Check

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

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

Factors Contributing to NFL Hamstring Strains

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

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

 

TBD

Mastering NFL Injury Reports for Fantasy Football Owners

I have to admit, I’m very impressed with the popularity of fantasy football and how many football fans are involved in fantasy leagues around the world.  As the Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist for the Jacksonville Jaguars, I can see why fantasy football is so appealing resulting in an elevated interest in NFL stats each week.

It makes each and every game exciting because fans are now interested in the  “players’ numbers” and not just the final score.

Rule #1

I’ll tell you right up front, I have never been involved in any fantasy football leagues.  When it comes to medical information about NFL players, my Rule #1 is to never discuss any details about an NFL player’s injury 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, my best friends or my family.  It’s easy to understand why and, as a full-time employee of the NFL for the past 24 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 game plans for 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.

Common Questions

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.

The Golden 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 recent 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.

The X Factor

You know that you want it.  They want to find it just as badly as you do.  It’s the “X Factor” that gives you the huge numbers come Sunday night.  It’s the tips which help you put the perfect fantasy football team on the field each Sunday.  That’s how you make the key roster move which results in having the WR who has a career day or how you 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 in your fantasy football league.