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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Unfortunately, I see far too many patients following ACL reconstruction in my sports medicine practice. In any given month, I am rehabbing between 10 and 15 patients who have lost their season to this injury. Most of the time it is a non-contact mechanism of injury, often involving additional trauma to the collateral ligaments, menisci and/or cartilage within the joint.

Throughout my career, I have rehabbed several hundred athletes with ACL tears. It has always been an area of interest and passion for me as well as prevention. Blending my background in performance training with rehab, I have fostered through much trial and adjustment what seems to be a very effective approach to rehab and return to sport.  Rehabbing higher level athletes is much like working on a high performance sports cars.

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If you own a high performance vehicle, you would prefer to have it serviced at a dealership where the mechanics are experienced working on similar cars, yes? I feel the same care and application is relevant with ACL rehab.  PT that is too aggressive or too conservative can impede progress and negatively impact peak performance.


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Spring training has begun, and youth baseball players all over the country are starting to practice and prepare for their upcoming seasons. My very own 14 y/o son has started his 8th grade season, while having been working with his travel team on the weekends since mid December.

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As a physical therapist, former player, father, and assistant coach on his 14U team, my first concern is always the health of a player. I see several baseball players in my sports medicine practice ranging in age from 9 year olds to MLB platers. Diagnoses include internal impingement, SLAP tears, little league elbow/shoulder, OCD, UCL sprains, rotator cuff tendinitis, instability, fractures and scapular dyskinesia.

One of the hardest things to do in my profession is get inside the head of a young athlete. Many will refrain from mentioning pain for fear of letting down a parent or coach, or out of concern for losing playing time. Society has become too focused on early specialization and winning from an early age. In addition, “travel baseball” has been somewhat diluted and water down by lots of dads who want their sons to play year-round. I often see kids being abused on terms of too little rest or improper recovery after they pitch and catch.

The biggest, most athletic and hardest throwing kids undergo the most strain as they are asked to shoulder the load at pitcher, catcher and shortstop early on. Many coaches are counting innings in tourneys and not pitches based on tournament guidelines. Too many kids are pitching on consecutive days without proper rest all in an attempt to win meaning less tournaments at a young age. Fortunately, we are making progress in the sports medicine world thanks to the efforts of Dr. James Andrews and others.

High schools are adopting pitch count regulations this year, and MLB along with Dr. Andrews has developed their site, www.pitchsmart.org, to spread education about injury prevention in youth pitchers. Dr. Christopher Ahmad is on the advisory committee for PitchSmart.org, and he is also the lead author on a new paper detailing an injury assessment tool for young baseball players, The Youth Throwing Score.


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This is a follow-up to my previous post with respect to scapular strengthening for optimal shoulder function. Serratus anterior weakness is a common issue with overhead athletes, especially throwers. It may present clinically as scapular winging, however, it often fatigues quickly with repetitive throwing and contributes to scapular dyskinesia and shoulder dysfunction. Since throwing is an asymmetrical activity, I like to include some unstable and progressive strengthening exercises for the dominant arm.

In the video below (as part of my ‘Functionally Fit’ column for PFP Magazine) I will demonstrate how to use a bottom up kettle bell approach to strengthen the serratus anterior muscle.

To see the full article with progressions and regressions check out the link below:

http://fit-pro.com/article-4136-Unilateral-bottom-up-serratus-punch.html

In the case of shoulder pain and dysfunction, the lower trapezius and serrates anterior are often implicated as part of the problem. Research has shown that these two muscles often fatigue and don’t contribute equally to the force couple between them and the upper trapezius that facilitates upward rotation of the scapula.

Building scapular stabilization and dynamic stability is a must for those doing repetitive overhead activities such as throwing, swimming, serving, or work-related tasks.  It is a given that asymmetries will exist, so optimizing the strength of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers is paramount to prevent injury and recover from overuse syndromes.

To strengthen the lower trapezius, one of my ‘go to’ exercises is the lower trap raise. It can be done with just the weight of your arms or using light dumbbells.  The link below includes the full description for the exercise, and I also embedded the video below.

http://fit-pro.com/article-4137-Lower-trap-raise.html

In the next column, I will include a serratus anterior exercise using a kettle bell as a follow-up to this post.

I rehab far too many athletes under the age of 18 with ACL tears. In many cases, I am rehabbing some who have suffered multiple ACL ruptures before they graduate from high school. The burning question is why do so many clients suffer a graft failure or contralateral injury so so often?

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Is it related to genetics? Is sports specialization to blame? Perhaps fatigue and limited recovery is a problem. I think the answer is multifactorial, but to be perfectly honest we as a profession have yet to truly arrive at a consensus as to when the “right time” to return to play is. Opinions vary widely based on the athlete, sport, native movement patterns, graft choice, additional injuries (ligament, cartilage or soft tissue) and the provider.

As a clinician dedicated to both prevention and the best rehab, I am always re-evlauating my own algorithm and rehab techniques, while looking for scientific rationale to direct my exercise selection and decision making processes. A recent paper by Webster and Feller in the November 2016 edition of AJSM looked at subsequent ACL injuries in subjects who underwent their primary ACLR under the age of 20 utilizing a hamstring autograft reconstruction procedure.


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