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….

Author: Mike Ryan

After 26 seasons as a full-time certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist in the National Football League, Mike Ryan has outstanding first-hand experience. His unique professional and athletic background has sharpened his skills in the arts of sports injury management, elite rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention. Mike is now taking his experience to mainstream America. His mission is simple: Sports Medicine advice that is easy to use and brings fast results. Learn more about Mike Ryan

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