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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Archive for 'medicine'

Have you ever experienced a significant injury? If so, do you remember wondering if you would ever be whole again? Pain, fear and the inability to do your sport or physical activity can cripple the human spirit.

Over my 21 years as a physical therapist and fitness professional, I have witnessed how powerful the mind is and how critical it is to have the right mindset to overcome physical obstacles. Some people are mentally stronger than others – period. With that said, adversity and pain has a way of testing the spirit and will of an individual.

In any given week, I see at least 5-10 patients rehabbing an ACL injury. The injury, surgery and rehab is physically and mentally grueling. The injury itself takes the athlete away from his/her passion or sport immediately, while presenting them with a long path back to full health. Many suffer an identity crisis as they become isolated and away from their peers. Physical therapy that fully restores function is a must in this group of patients. For more on what complete ACL rehab looks like, click here to read one of my previous posts.

Fear of reinjury and persistent knee symptoms are common reasons for a lack of return to play after ACL reconstruction. Click here to read an abstract regarding kinesiophobia in this group of patients.

With any injury, it is only natural to worry about the outcome. Clients often wonder quietly whether they will be able to return to their previous level of play. In this post, I want to talk about the elephant in the room for patients coming back from an injury, and that is a legitimate fear of reinjury.

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Blood flow restriction (BFR) therapy/training is one of the newer and more exciting techniques being used in the sports medicine field. I received training with Owens Recovery Science and have been utilizing personalized blood flow restriction (PBFR) therapy in my clinic since November 2017 using the Delfi personalized tourniquet system (PTS).

What exactly is BFR?

It is the application of a specialized tourniquet system to the proximal arm or leg, which is inflated to a personalized and specific pressure to reduce blood flow to an exercising extremity. For the lower extremity, the occlusion pressure is 80%, whereas the upper extremity pressure is usually set at 50%.

The application is brief and intermittent, usually lasting about 6 minutes per exercise. For most clients, a total of 3-4 exercises are used leading to 24-30 minutes based on the specific exercises prescribed. Typically, to increase strength and hypertrophy a person would need to lift a significant amount of weight (greater than or equal to 60% of a 1 repetition maximum). With PBFR you can create significant strength and hypertrophy gains with loads as low as 20% 1RM.

We utilize the Delfi tourniquets as suggested with the Owens training course. You can see the PTS and tourniquets below:

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What is the science behind this training tool?

The landmark study by Takarada published in 2000 revealed that significant hypertrophy gains are seen with occlusion and the use of lighter training loads. There is an increase in muscle protein synthesis as well as growth hormone secretion. Below you find some links to abstracts from Takarada’s work:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10846023

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10642363

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11128848

In addition to hypertrophy, there also appears to be an application for preventing disuse atrophy simply using occlusion. This may prove very beneficial for clients who are non-weightbearing after an injury or surgery, yet not able to perform much resistance training.


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I have a steady flow of baseball players who come to see me for shoulder and elbow rehab. As a former pitcher whose playing career was altered by an arm injury at age 14, I have a particular interest in throwing injuries. My son is a 6’2″ left-handed pitcher that plays showcase baseball. He will be the subject matter of this post moving forward.

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Many of the players I see for shoulder and elbow pain suffer from pathological GIRD (glenohumeral internal rotation deficit). While it is common to see throwers with less internal rotation on their dominant side, it is important to assess total shoulder motion to make sure their mobility is within 5 degrees of their non-dominant side. Asymmetry in total shoulder motion and shoulder flexion increase the odds of elbow injuries. Click here to see the correlation in professional pitchers. Additionally, insufficient external rotation gain on the throwing arm increases injury risk. Click here to read an abstract summarizing data within the same group of professional pitchers.

Given this information and my background, I have preached arm care for years to my son. For some background, my son has pitched since he was 9 years old. Since I have been a coach for his team in one capacity or another since he was 10, I have closely monitored and controlled his pitch counts, innings per outing and total innings per year. He has always been able to throw hard, but he had a big growth spurt in middle school and his velocity grew with that.

He now throws between 75-77 mph as a HS freshman. He is projected to be 6’5″ tall and weighs 170 pounds at this time. His showcase coach pitched in MLB, and we have two other organizational pitching instructors with big league experience who supervise his weekly bullpens. His total innings pitched for 2017 = 43. Research indicates anything over 100 significantly increases injury risk. With all that said, he has developed some medial elbow pain over the past 4 months. He has no history of arm trouble to date. My intention is for this post to serve as useful diagnostic and proactive intervention for those who may see and experience similar cases.


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Poor landing mechanics are often cited as a predictor of ACL injury risk. In my 20 years as a physical therapist, I have rehabbed many athletes with this injury. I believe that injury prevention, whether to prevent a primary or secondary injury, hinges on the ability to train the body to decelerate and land appropriately. Some athletes simply move better than others. Nonetheless, teaching a soft bent knee landing while minimizing dynamic valgus is essential.

The following video from my online PFP column reveals a foundational exercise that can be used in prevention and rehab alike.

Click here if you want to read about another landing exercise that I utilize in my training and rehab programs.

Baseball pitchers who fail nonoperative care for SLAP injuries will undergo a repair if they wish to continue throwing. The injury may occur at ball release as the biceps contracts to resist glenohumeral joint distraction and decelerate elbow extension. The other thought is that injury occurs in late cocking as the result of a “peel back” mechanism when the abducted shoulder externally rotates. Previous research by Shepard et al. published in American Journal of Sports Medicine (AJSM) measured in vitro strength of the biceps-labral complex during the peel back and distal force and concluded that repetitive force in both scenarios likely causes SLAP lesions.

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Baseball pitching motion 2004“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the concerns for pitchers after surgery is regaining full shoulder external rotation and horizontal abduction. If too much tension is placed on the glenohumeral ligaments during surgery, regaining motion can be tough. Ironically, external rotation is limited in the early phase of rehab to protect the labral repair which may impair throwing mechanics later on. Appropriate rehab and progression is paramount for long term success.

Laughlin et al. at the ASMI sought out to explore in a labaratory if there are differences in pitchers who underwent a SLAP repair compared to those in age controlled groups without injury. ┬áIn a paper published in the Dec. 2014 AJSM, the researchers hypothesized that the SLAP group would exhibit compromised shoulder range of motion and internal range of motion torque during pitching. Of 634 pitchers (collegiate and professional) tested at ASMI from 2000 – 2014, 13 in this group were included in the SLAP group as they had undergone a SLAP repair at least 1 year before their biomechanical testing.


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