Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Mental Effect

Injuries leave you less than 100%. Even after a full physical recovery, the mental recovery may still lag behind. Throughout this blog, I have taken a look at several different injuries, tips, and rules on basic recovery. However, what about the real psychological effect of it all? How do you get past it? What does it really mean?

As I mentioned in my very first post, an injury first and foremost instills a sense of fear. As athletes, we know pain to be a frightening thing. It is not due to the aching, throbbing, or discomfort of it all, but because of the lack of knowledge. Every single person’s body is different and therefore, their injuries are as well. While doctors can provide a diagnoses or perhaps an estimated timeline, nothing is truly and absolutely guaranteed. Will our bodies make a full recovery back to normal? Will we be able to play to the fullest of our potential? The questions continuously and unwillingly circulate in our head.

This leads us to the big, important question of it all. How do we begin a mental recovery? We have been taken off the field maybe for a few weeks or maybe for many months. We lose the ability to do the one thing we know and love. We feel lazy and anxious sitting around day after day, so how do we fix it?

Well, honestly it cannot be fixed. A sport on the surface may seem like simply a group of people playing games for recreational purposes. However, it goes much further. Growing up playing a sport shapes the type of person and attitude you have in life. We are natural competitors at the core, and this causes us great difficulty in dealing with injuries. None of us want to let a minor bump in the road take us out of the addictive nature of competition. It puts everything around us to a halt, and we get stir crazy. We watch with envy as our teammates suit up for the big game and we lose our minds sitting there helpless during a competition.

When you add it all up, the mental toll of an injury, especially for athletes, is unavoidable. However, after being sidelined for various types of injuries, I learned a few important rules to help stay mentally involved and engaged.

  • Be sad/frustrated/annoyed. Understand the situation and allow yourself to get angry or sad. Take a few days to regroup and process the situation. It is better to get it over with now than let it hit you in the upcoming weeks.
  • Rehab, rehab, rehab. Even if you can only do a few simply rehab exercises, never skip them. If you ever have some free time, get more treatment and keep icing. There is always something that can be done. It cannot hurt and it will keep you busy and distracted.
  • Concentrate on what you can do. Even after a serious ankle sprain, you still have the ability to gain muscle strength in your arms so go to the weight room. Try swimming laps or jogging in the water during your recovery process. By doing some type of exercise like this even if it isn’t running, you remain active and obtain some sense of accomplishment. 
  • Avoid excessive self-pity. You are not the first person to ever get injured, so try to avoid wallowing in the corner. While it is okay to get upset, do not let it affect your day to day activities or the overall attitude of the team. Encourage the players on the field and try not to think about yourself the whole time.
  • Utilize injury as motivation. Yes, an injury will take you off of the field. However, as you recover, a fresh start develops for you. Come back in better shape with a stronger mindset than before. Take it as motivation to get better and exceed any expectations people may have for you when you get back.

Of course, things are always easier said than done. People can write dozens of lists, tips, or steps, but it can never prepare you completely for the real thing. Just take things as they go and think of the bigger picture. When the day comes and the doctor clears you for all physical activity in your sport, all of your hard work will pay off. The journey will end before you know it, and you will be back on the field doing what you love.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Let's Talk to a Professional

Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to a real professional in the world of sports injuries. Brittany Plummer, an athletic trainer at Fordham University, works with athletes from all different kinds of sports each day. She examines and assesses injuries, providing treatment and rehab options. In addition, she attends the actual games in case an injuries occur on the field for either Fordham or the opposing team.

I asked her a few questions about herself and her profession. Here is what she said.

Question 1: How long have you been an athletic trainer?
I have been a certified athletic trainer for four and a half years.

Question 2: What made you choose this career path?
When I was in high school I got injured and spent a decent amount of time around the athletic trainers. I wanted to be around sports and knew college would be the last chance so I figured this was a good way to be around sports.

Question 3: From your experience, what is the most common sports injury you see from college athletes?
Most common sports injury with all college athletes across the board would be muscle strains or ankle sprains. 

Question 4: What advice would you give someone recovering from sports-related surgery?
If you're recovering from sports related surgery, my first advice would be to do pre-surgical rehab to work on strength before. Immediately after surgery reduce the swelling as fast as possible. While doing rehab stay on track, it will hurt, you will be sore and you will want to quit but the more you push through and force yourself the better your outcome will be.

Question 5: What would you say is the number one rule of recovery, if there is any?
Number one rule would most likely be get rid of swelling and keep swelling out. 

Certified athletic trainers get to see and experience the action first-hand. Therefore, every day on the job Brittany helps athletes treat and prevent injuries. While answers may vary from trainer to trainer, this is what Brittany has found to be true from her personal experience.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What's in the Bag?

All athletes have their favorite gym bag they bring with them to any type of workout, run, or practice containing everything they will need. For those of us conditioning for the upcoming season, enduring strenuous lifts, or fighting to get back in shape, there are certain essentials you should definitely throw in the bag. These 6 items will not only aid in the recovery process, but also help keep you on track and motivated for those long, painful days.
  1. Stretch Strap: Stretching is the number one rule of recovery. You can either buy an actual stretch strap or use an old rope. It will allow you to go into a deeper stretch with less effort. When done properly, you can distinctively target your hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps with a few simple movements. 
  2. Foam Roller: This self-massaging item will save you from tight, knotted muscles. It gives you a deep tissue massage breaking up the "knots" in all parts of your legs, glutes, and back. Stretching alone may not fully release muscle tightness, so embrace the painfully glorious work of the foam roller.
  3. Lacrosse/Tennis Ball: Similarly to a foam roller, this little ball will also help release trigger points and stubborn knots. The tiny, hard ball works as a more localized foam roller. It is great for tight calves or lower backs. After a tough game or long run, even try standing on the lacrosse ball to massage the bottom of your feet. You will definitely not regret it.
  4. Headphones: I am assuming most of us keep these with us whenever we go for a workout. However, it is another necessity when fighting through a tough lift or conditioning. It helps to keep you motivated and zoned in on the task at hand.
  5. Water Bottle: While it may be another obvious item, carrying and drinking a water bottle everywhere you go provides numerous benefits. Staying hydrated not only keeps you from getting dizzy, but also fuels your body with energy, speeds up joint and cartilage repair, and reduces muscle cramping. Find a water bottle you absolutely love and always keep it filled in your bag.
  6. Post-Workout Snack: If you are always on the go and don't have time to get a meal after a workout, make sure to keep a snack in your bag. For example, a recovery shake, protein bar, or bag of trail mix are all great sources of protein and carbs to help replenish your body after a workout. Your muscles become damaged and depleted after endless sprints, hard lifts, or long practices. Therefore, it is important to refill and refuel your body. 
While many of us probably have a ton of miscellaneous items stuffed in our bag, make sure to include these six. For those of us struggling to get out the door and waddling from stiff and tight muscles, a bag filled with these components will help your body recover, improve your workout, and even provide a little reward for when you are finished.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Journey of a Labrum Repair

Friday, June 3rd, waking up well before the sun, I hopped in the car to drive my boyfriend to Columbia Presbyterian hospital. It was a strange day, not because we were going to the hospital or encountering some odd string of events, but simply because I was not the patient this time around. Like most college baseball pitchers, he needed work done on his shoulder, most specifically, a posterior and anterior labrum repair.

We sat in the hospital for hours watching as the nurses hooked him up with wires and probed his veins with IVs. It was only 5 months since I was in the exact same location doing the exact same thing. Yet, this time I got to sit on the outside looking in, and the experience was much different.

Around 3 hours after our arrival, the nurses escorted me out into the family waiting area where I had the pleasure of watching a white screen awaiting a little green dot signifying he was out of surgery. Drugged up on the after effects of anesthesia, claiming his surgery was way cooler than any Grey’s Anatomy episode, he was discharged from the hospital.

This is where the fun begins. I had the striking pleasure of becoming his own personal nurse for the next 4 weeks. With a massive immobilizing sling on his right arm, he couldn’t do much at all. Luckily the first couple days consisted of oxycodone induced naps, waking him up only for food and more magic pills. Then, the tasks started to pile up; cleaning his shoulder, making and cutting his food, tying his shoes, chauffeuring him around, and so on.

Don't get me wrong. It was not that I dreaded helping him day after day, but it seriously changed my perspective on the matter. After experiencing the other side of things, I will forever give anyone who takes care of me after an injury much, much more credit. Yes, injuries are awful things, and they leave you feeling helpless and limited. However, the people watching and helping you day in and day out deserve some type of reward.

Now, about 8 weeks after surgery and safely out of the sling, he is back to doing everything on his own. Only 7 more months until he ends his journey and returns to the mound.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Wonderfully Awful World of Broken Noses

It has only happened to a select few of us. The immediate shock followed by a terrifying realization. That thing in the middle of your face has broken. How do you know? You can literally see the shift of your nose in your peripheral vision. Without a mirror or any type of reflection for that matter, you have confirmed a break in your face.

Compared to ACL or UCL tears, this injury seems minute and trivial. If it's a simple break, the doctor will tell you to wait a few days for the swelling to do down. Then, you go back to the office in a matter of minutes, the doctor breaks it back into place and all goes back to normal, or so we are lead to believe.

Out of all the injuries, why write a post about a broken nose? The answer is simple; two words, cast and mask. As you walk out of the doctor’s office with a newly straightened nose, you are accompanied with a fresh cast literally glued to your face. Not to mention, the black eyes will continue to worsen within the next few days. Get ready for stares wherever you go as well as an endless stream of pity-filled questions from strangers.

Finally, the cast is off and you are cleared back into physical activity. Except, there is a catch. After a nose break and realignment, the bone and cartilage need extra time to fully set in place. A bump or hit to the area risks a re-break, so when returning back to a physical contact sport you need protective gear.

This brings me to the introduction of the mask. We might have noticed them on professional basketball players like Richard Hamilton or Kobe Bryant. However, those specially made transparent mask are not the typical, generic kind given to patients. Instead, the masks we receive include large white foam pieces, massive black adjustable straps, and an overall huge acrylic frame. It traps in the heat and sweat and blocks off part of your vision making playing quite miserable. However, as much as you hate the thing, listen to the doctor’s orders and keep it on when playing. Unfortunately, I refused to use this awful mask and it resulted in 4 more breaks, 4 more casts, and many black eyes.  

This unique recovery proves to be one of the worst and probably the most embarrassing. However, if you are one of the few to have experienced the cast and mask routine, you know the awful journey. Next time you see someone walking on the street with a piece of plastic glued to their face or playing with the unavoidably noticeable mask, understand the pain and try not to stare for too long.

Monday, July 18, 2016

4 Reasons Why Every Athlete Should Try Out Yoga

The best thing an athlete can do is take a yoga class. Although the typical stereotype of an avid yogi is usually a 20 or 30-year-old female decked out in lululemon, males and females of all ages should take a class at some point. It has been known to provide health benefits both physically and mentally leaving you relaxed and refreshed. Here are some of the serious benefits that should motivate you to go sign up.

1. Flexibility. 
Although you may not be as flexible as the lady next to you who has been at it for 5 years now, each class will help loosen your muscles. This is critical for athletes as flexibility can not only prevent injuries, but also increase your range of motion and power.

2. Improved Strength. 
Routine practices will increase muscle strength in areas you may not target during your sport. It helps build lean muscle mass which will in turn enhance performance.

3. Balance. 
We may not notice it, but mental and physical balance play a major role in athletic performance. By learning to control your body during a yoga class, you will have better control of your body’s actions on the field or court.

4. Muscle Repair
The combination of stretching and relaxing increase the body flow within your body. Therefore, it serves as a form of active recovery repairing your body tissue and rejuvenating your body.

While you may not be a pro at yoga or the most flexible in the room, the benefits of this type of exercise are worth reaping. Athletes of all sports including soccer, volleyball, baseball, and even football have been encouraged and sometimes demanded by coaches to take a class on a day off. I will admit my first class was not comfortable and definitely not easy, but after time it started to pay off. Don't be afraid to give it a try.

The next time you have a Sunday off find a class and join the yoga movement. It will help you stay on the field and even improve your performance.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

How-to Treat Shin Splints

Shin splints, a runner’s worst nightmare, come and go as they please stubbornly affecting routine runs. The pain levels can vary, but it usually starts with a dull pain in the lower inside portion of your shin. However, when not treated properly, shin splints can become excruciatingly painful expanding all the way up your shin to the knee.

I have struggled with this nagging injury for a little over six years now. After seeing various doctors, getting x-rays and bone scans, customizing orthotics, and wearing shin sleeves, it is safe to say I have tried everything in the book. Throughout this endless journey, I discovered what works for me and what doesn't. For those of you who understand this injury, you know how difficult it is to find a fix, and for those of you who are lucky enough to run pain-free, count your blessings. Shin splints are simply awful.

From years of experimentation, I gathered some how-to tips to treat and prevent shin splints.

  1. Stretch: This one is critical. Most of the time shin splints occur from tight calves and inadequate warmups. Instead of jumping right into things, take the time to stretch 5-10 minutes before and after each run.
  2. Ice: I know, everyone has probably heard this one a million and one times. However, it really does pay off when done properly. Take the time to ice for 20 minutes after each run and even on your day off. 
  3. Proper Running Shoes: Make sure you have stable running shoes that are not too worn. As a Nike lover myself, I stick with the “Stable Ride” line of shoes However, most people recommend Asics. Also, switch out your shoes every 300 to 400 miles. Shoes of every type wear down and it causes stress on your legs. 
  4. Physical Therapy: If your shin splints worsen over time, get a prescription for physical therapy. They can give stem and ultrasound treatments that are not available at home. In addition, therapists will stretch and massage out the stubborn parts of your shin.
  5. Rest: This one is the hardest. Sometimes it is better to call it quits on your run when the pain worsens. Take a few days off. If you still need to get your cardio in, try jogging in a pool or biking as it requires much less pressure on your legs.

The worst part about shin splints is the lack of solutions available. Doctors can recommend treatments, but nothing is guaranteed to work. However, the best part about shin splints is the ability to play through them. Some doctors may advise taking some time off, but there is no reason to stop playing.