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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Archive for 'knee'

As a sports medicine professional and physical therapist working with lots of athletes after ACL surgery, I am always looking for ways to improve post-op rehab and prevent a subsequent ACL injury. While we have lots of research looking at neuromuscular, genetic, sex and morphologic risk factors, we have not been able to make significant progress in injury reduction.  So many athletes suffer the dreaded “pop” making a simple athletic maneuver they have done a thousand times before.

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Based on nearly 19 years of experience training and rehabbing athletes from youth to professionals, I see strong links to a genetic predisposition (family history and prior injury) as well as concerns over neural fatigue. We already know the age of injury is a significant as research indicates those tearing at a younger age (around 20-21 y/o) are more likely to suffer a second injury. But what we know less about is the impact of ankle biomechanics (namely limited dorsiflexion) and how proximal weakness in the hip affects injury risk.

The latter topic was the focus of a study just published in the current edition of the American Journal of Sports Medicine. In this prospective study, researchers sought to determine if baseline hip strength can predict future non-contact ACL tears in athletes.


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Why is it that athletes performing a movement they have done so many times suddenly tear their ACL?  We have been studying ACL injury and prevention for many years now, and despite our best efforts, we have not made marked progress in preventing the number of ACL injuries.  In addition to anatomical variants and perhaps some genetic predisposition, I feel that the earlier push for sports specialization in our society resulting in increased training/competition hours is a major factor.

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The term ACL fatigue may or may not be familiar to you.  But in essence, this theory would suggest that after a certain number of impacts/loading, the ACL becomes weakened and less resistant to strain.  You could almost compare this to a pitcher who suffers an injury to his medial collateral ligament with too much throwing.

As someone who is consistently rehabbing athletes with ACL tears and screening athletes to assess injury risk, I am always interested in how we can keep people from suffering such a devastating non-contact injury. A recent article in the American Journal of Sports Medicine sought so assess ACL fatigue failure in relation to limited hip internal rotation with repeated pivot landings.

We already know that hip mobility is often an issue for our athletes.  Researchers at the University of Michigan sought to determine the effect of limited range of femoral internal rotation, sex, femoral-ACL attachment angle, and tibial eminence volume on in vitro ACL fatigue life during repetitive simulated single leg pivot landings.


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I work with lots of runners, both recreational and competitive, who are seeking to improve performance or overcome injuries. The most common issues I see are iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) and patellofemoral knee pain (PFP).  With every runner, I routinely perform FMS and video analysis to get a better understanding of their movement patterns, gait mechanics and asymmetries.

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Without question, they tend to ask me if there is a better way to run.  Obviously, every accomplished runner has his/her own opinion on the matter.  Some prefer forefoot or midfoot strike, while other do just fine with a heel strike pattern.  In essence, we do not have any sound research or biomechanical evidence to declare one a winner.  Since I work with many injured runners, I am always seeking to find the most efficient ways to reduce injury risk and eliminate pain.

A paper just published in the September 2015 American Journal of Sports Medicine by Boyer and Derrick sought to answer the question of how shortening the stride length or altering foot strike pattern may impact certain variables.  Specifically, the authors sought to compare step width, free moment, ITB strain and strain rate, and select lower extremity frontal and transverse plane kinematics when stride length was shortened 5% and 10% in habitual rearfoot and habitual mid-/forefoot runners using both strike patterns while shod.


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So many times, athletes and parents alike are singularly focused on the physical rehab necessary after an injury.  Often, what the athlete is not talking about is the psychological impact of the injury.  Suddenly, their identity and self worth may come into question.  They feel disconnected from teammates and coaches.  Their daily routine consists of rehab and not practice/play.  Deep inside their head they are quietly wondering, “Will I ever be the same again?”

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Aside from some of the obvious questions that race through an injured athlete’s mind, one of the biggest and most often unspoken concerns is the fear of re-injury.  Having worked with athletes of all sports, ages and abilities, I have seen firsthand how important it is for an athlete to go through a functional and sequential progression that assures that they are able to run, jump, cut, pivot and decelerate again without pain or instability.

I have worked with hundreds of athletes over the course of my career that have suffered ACL injuries.  The longer I practice, the more I become convinced that we probably have been pushing or allowing these athletes to go back to their sports before they are really ready (physically and/or mentally).  Six months has long been the benchmark for most orthopaedic surgeons.  The graft is well healed, but often the mind and body are not really ready.

While I have seen athletes who have great strength, stability, hop testing scores above 90% and look good on movement drills, sometimes these same athletes still have asymmetrical squat patterns, FMS scores lower than 14 or apprehension about returning to their sport.  In addition, fear of re-injury is a big factor that impacts confidence and readiness to return to activity.

Consider some of these facts about modifiable factors with return to sports after ACLR from the May/June 2015 Sports Health Journal:

  • Motivation, confidence, self-efficacy, optimism and low fear are associated with a greater likelihood of returning to preinjury level  after athletic injury and ACLR
  • Lower fear of reinjury and greater pyschological readiness to return to sport favored returning to preinjury level after surgery
  • Combinable data from 10 studies suggests that fear of reinjury, psychological readiness to return to sport and one’ subjective assessment of knee function were predictive of level of return to sport
  • As many as 1 in 2 athletes who do not return to their preinjury level of sport report the main reason is fear of reinjury


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Whether doing prehab, rehab or training, I believe in using single leg exercises to attack asymmetries, imbalances and motor deficits I uncover in my assessments.  Learning to control one’s body in space with the effect of gravity in a weight bearing position is instrumental for sport and injury prevention.

Furthermore, facilitating ankle mobility and proper knee alignment during a loaded squat pattern is something most athletes and clientele I work with need some help with.  to that end, I utilize several different single leg reaching progressions and exercises.  One of my favorite ‘go to’ exercises is the anterior cone reach.

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I recently featured this specific exercise in my ‘Functionally Fit’ column for PFP Magazine.  Click here to see the video demonstration.

This is a great exercise with progressions and regressions for clients of all ages and abilities.

Click here to read the entire column.