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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Archive for 'sports performance'

One of the biggest issues I see today in youth sports is an abundance of overuse and preventable musculoskeletal injuries due to improper conditioning, lack of recovery or both. In the current era of sports specialization and the hyper-competitive pursuit of college scholarships, an athlete can unknowingly be placed in a comprising position with respect to his/her physical and mental health. Coaches and parents may push a player to participate in a weakened or vulnerable state.

Now, more than ever, athletes who do focus in on a singular sport need a year-round training plan to match their year-round sport demands. In order to stave off injury and avoid burnout, a successful plan must accomplish the following:

  1. Implement de-loading periods along with scheduled rest in the training and competitive cycles
  2. Periodize the training to peak at the desired times
  3. Allow for adequate time to ramp up training and sport specific activity in order to condition the body for the high demands of the sport and safely move from the athlete’s “floor” to the “ceiling”

A surefire recipe for injury and soft tissue failure is progressing training loads too fast, where the athlete often endures too much acute workload without enough time to build up an adequate amount of loading tolerance or chronic workload. I see this frequently in baseball pitchers (shoulder and elbow pain), female soccer and basketball players (patellofemoral pain), along with many athletes who suffer soft tissue strains including hamstring, hip flexor and groin injuries.

Tim Gabbett, published an excellent clinical commentary in the October edition of JOSPT (1) that highlights the importance progressing training loads to minimize injury risk and optimize performance. Specifically, he discusses the concepts of “floor”, “ceiling” and “time” as it relates to developing rehab and performance plans.

Floor – the athlete’s current level of capacity

Ceiling – the capacity needed to perform the specific acuities of their sport

Time – an athlete can safely progress from the floor to the ceiling when afforded enough time

Further, Tim discusses how an injured athlete can actually fall behind in conditioning and end up in the “basement” in terms of training capacity. This presents additional challenges in getting the injured athlete back safely, particularly if it is in-seasonwith a shorter time window. He presents an option of raising the floor when an athlete enters rehab or if he/she will be on an extended break from training to ensure the loading capacity not drop below the floor to the basement, but rather increase the height of the floor, perhaps allowing the athlete to eventually reach a higher ceiling (greater loading capacity) later on.

According to Gabbett, there are 5 key ways to ensure athletes are prepared for competition:

  1. Maintain adequate training load during the offseason and while injured.
  2. Identify the ceiling and make sure the training load is in line with the sport’s demands.
  3. Assess individual differences in training tolerance. We need to consider young versus older athletes, injuries, training history, aerobic fitness and physical deficiencies to do this properly.
  4. Identify and prepare for the most demanding parts of competition.
  5. Coaches need to plan enough time to move from the floor to the ceiling considering the physical demands of the sport, capacity needed to perform these activities, and individual limiting factors that may impede the ability to meet these demands.

Having spent a considerable amount of my career working with high level amateur and professional athletes, I am well aware of the narrow windows of time to compete and recover with weekend tournaments and professional schedules. It takes a lot more time to get in elite shape and only a few days to begin detraining. Cross training, smart and progressive rehab and clear communication with coaches, training staff and the athlete is essential in managing an injury for a high level athlete.

In addition, I always tell my athletes the only thing worse than not competing at all is going out and performing poorly. Without proper training and rehab plans, athletes will eventually fail mechanically. I often encourage the athlete to communicate clearly in terms of pain response on a scale of 1-10 during, immediately after and for the 24 hour period following rehab to assess the body’s response to loading. Using these concepts and the floor, ceiling and time as discussed by Tim Gabbett, strength coaches, sport coaches and rehab professionals can all refine their methods to put the athlete in the best position to succeed and reduce injury risk.

References:

  1. Gabbett TJ. How much? How fast? How soon? Three simple concepts for progressing training loads to minimize injury risk and enhance performance. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2020 Oct;50(10):570-573.

 

I am currently working to attain my transitional doctorate in physical therapy (tDPT) at Northeastern University. As I continue to work full time as a clinician, it has been really cool to apply the learning with my current caseload. At this time, I am in a motor control class that is both fascinating and challenging. In week three, we examined pain and the impact it has on neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adapt or change).

In the sports medicine realm, I generally think many practitioners solely focus on the musculoskeletal system or physical impairment. As such, interventions are developed around tissue constraints, ROM deficits, weakness, etc. Too often, we look past the power and impact of the brain and how it plays a vital role in healing and return to play. For some patients, there is a maladaptive response to injury/surgery and a hypersensitivity of the central nervous system or central sensitization that occurs. Pelletier (2015) notes that structural and functional changes can occur. (1)

Two critical concepts to consider here are:

  1. Sensory amplification – sensory and motor representations change resulting in perceptual changes in body image, motor control changes, and even a persistence or amplification of pain
  2. Experience dependent plasticity – patient’s response to pain is related to prior experience and may experience maladatpive imprinting where the pain outlasts the physical insult

Kleim (2008) gives a great lesson on experience dependent plasticity and states that learning is essential for the brain to adapt to damage self taught behavioral changes can be maladaptive or positive and specific forms of neural plasticity and associated behavioral changes are dependent on specific kinds of experience (2). While one would assume that chronic pain is rare in athletes, I would counter and say it is probably just overlooked as we tend to expect athletes to “push through the pain” because of the driven culture we live in. Coaches, parents and even teammates can affect the mindset around injury and recovery.


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Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with lots of athletes ranging from youth to professionals. Regardless of age or skill level, I have observed that each one approaches the recovery in their own way. Some are eager to tackle therapy, while others are apprehensive and fearful.

To be clear, the mindset of the patient is as important, if not more important than the physical part of the process as it relates to success. With ACL rehab, I pay close attention at post-op visit number one to determine if the patient is a coper, non-coper or somewhere in between. Having this awareness is crucial as I look to encourage the client and position him/her for success in the fist phase of rehab. The mindset of a patient recovering from their second or third ACL tear may differ greatly than that of a first timer.

With that said, assessing the state of mind of any athlete in the PT clinic is a must. An athlete’s identity, confidence and self-worth is often tied to his/her sport. Injuries separate the athletes from their teams and take away something very important to them. This can lead to depression, anxiety, anger, fear and loneliness to name a few.

It is imperative to connect with an athlete in the first 1-2 visits of rehab. I aim to bond with them and ensure they know I will do everything in my power to get them back to their prior level of performance. Fear of loss is powerful, and I want to partner with them to prevent the loss of playing time as quickly and safely I can though proper rehab.


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Improving rotational strength and stability in the torso, shoulders and hips is important for injury prevention and performance. The ability to resist and control rotational loads can reduce stress on the body during transverse plane activities and deceleration during sport. This exercise will demonstrate how to train rotational stability in an unstable manner using water with the Aktiv AQUA Bag. The video below is my latest online column for PFP Magazine.

The water provides an unstable training environment that is effective for beginners and advanced users. You can read the entire online column by clicking here.

 

Do you suffer with shoulder instability, shoulder weakness, poor trunk control or chronic shoulder/back pain? One of the biggest issues overhead athletes have is poor proximal stability, often leading to scapular dyskinesia. In turn, undue strain and force can cause stress on the rotator cuff and/or labrum.

In addition, nagging back pain can also occur as a result of repetitive micro-trauma. Improving pillar stability can reduce stress with hyperextension and rotation that creates stress and injuries in the lumbar spine.

This exercise is a unique and challenging way to improve shoulder and torso stability. In some instances, the stress on the wrist can be difficult, and in these cases I suggest using a closed fist on the stationary arm or moving to the knees. It is particularly effective exercise for swimmers, gymnasts, overhead athletes, and anyone with a history of shoulder instability.

Click here to read the entire column.