TTFB interview: Physician provides insight on sports injury recovery

Derek Jeter taking ground balls in Florida.
Age and unrealistic expectations may be preventing Derek Jeter’s return to the field. (Ron Antonelli/New York Daily News)

It happens every year in Major League Baseball: Injuries affect a team’s performance. Many clubs are molded around a specific player,  reflecting how that team is built and managed. Matt Kemp, Mariano Rivera, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, are just some of the players who left their teams scrambling for decent replacements. It’s the same story, year in year out.

This season is no different. Zack Greinke went down with a broken collar bone in April during a fight that broke out after he hit Carlos Quentin with a pitch. Johnny Cueto went on the DL in April after suffering a lat sprain that he’s still fighting. Derek Jeter suffered an ankel fracture in the ALCS last year that has kept him off the field this season.

I spoke with Dr. Chris McKenzie of McKenzie Sports Therapy in Philadelphia to find out the effort behind a player’s fight back to the top. A Penn State and Drexler Alum, Chris has worked with many ballplayers, from high school to the pros.

Michael Dault: Here we are again. A new year, a new set of injuries.

Dr. Chris McKenzie: Yes. And I looked at some of the injuries certain players sustained so far this year. Greinke’s broken collarbone is nasty. A pitcher who suffers that sort of injury can expect to be sore for a while, even when he returns. Corey Hart suffered a right knee injury, where his knee joint was out of line.

MD: He’s on the 60-day DL.

CM: Yes. And Jeter is still out. His age has a lot to do with his setback. The Derek Jeter of five-six years ago would’ve been on the field already. It’s a cruel part of baseball, though. So, yes, there are some bad injuries this season.

MD: In Football, Adrian Peterson suffered a torn ACL and MCL in 2011, and he was able to come back from it to start the first week of the 2012 season.

CM: Peterson is a beast. In all reality, it’s how hard a player is willing to work. Adrian’s injury was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. He had an excellent staff behind him and the organization really supported him, which helps a player a lot. That way they don’t feel too pressured.

MD: Unlike the Derrick Rose situation with the Chicago Bulls, right?

CM: Right. Some players are just different.

MD: So, when one sustains massive injuries, ones that keep them out for a long period of time, will they ever fully recover?

CM: In most cases, no, most will never be at 100 percent again. In football, even more so, because those players sometimes have to come back sooner, where in baseball the slightest injury holds them out for a while. The seasons are just different. Baseball is longer, so players can afford to sit out an extended period of time to heal. But all players feel it after the season, for sure. During the season, their bodies are going all the time, but once they rest for longer than they’re used to, then they feel it.

MD: Okay, let’s talk about a player who goes down before or during a season and is doing rehab. Do the coaches talk to physicians before they talk to the injured player?

CM: Well, if it was a bad enough injury that required surgery, they would first talk to the surgeon performing the surgery, then the physical therapist. But yes, if they go straight to rehab then I’m the first. Coaches want to know everything — most importantly, is their player ready. Coaches want their athletes on the field. Some players or even coaches will want to rush things, and all I can do is tell them the facts. I will recommend what they should do, however, it’s ultimately up to the coaches and the players themselves to make the final decision. My job is to get them back to top form and back on the field without injuring or re-injuring themselves.

MD: Speaking of rushing back from an injury, Victor Martinez and Mariano Rivera were prime examples of this last year. They suffered significant enough injuries and were trying to rush back, so it was reported. But their doctors weren’t comfortable with a sooner-than-expected return.

CM: Yeah, it’s one of those things, where a player thinks he’s ready to go, but the doctor had to step in and give them the facts. If they came back before they were ready, they risk injuring themselves even more.

MD: Would you says there are misconceptions about how athletes prepare their bodies?

CM: All the time. Some believe strength training will prevent injury, that’s misinformation. Actually, baseball is one of the most misinformed sports when it comes to training. A lot of MLB trainers just aren’t good, in my opinion. There are so many opinions about how players should train and strength training seems to be the most misunderstood.

MD: So, what do you do to prepare players?

CM: I examine all of my guys before spring training. I attack their weaknesses and work from the feet up. In fact, I can tell a lot about a player just by looking at his posture.

MD: Do you put them through any tests?

CM: Yes. For posture, I have them squat with one leg, then two legs. After, I have them rotate their shoulders and neck. Then I have them do dynamic stabilization drills and finish it out with a strength test. These give me an overall result of how they should train and what parts of their bodies they should work on more.

MD: You deal with a lot of young players. As the draft nears, what advice do you have for young players to keep their bodies in top form, and also for players who have dealt with past injuries?

CM: I usually tell my clients to keep in contact with me, because they’re going to hear so many different opinions, and for a player to understand what is the best option, they must trust someone they’ve worked with before, who will shoot them straight information and someone who understands their body. So, if you’ve been injured before the best thing to do is get good referrals on physical therapists who have a good track record. Stay in contact with them after because they will know your body better than most.

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