A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education talked about an ongoing epidemic in athletics, especially college athletes. Every year we see more and more student-athletes coming to school with “nagging” injuries. When you do the pres-season physical you start uncovering numerous chronic issues that have been treated but never fixed. It is then up to the sports medicine staff to “fix” them, all while they are competing in their sports, either off-season or in-season, lifting weights, conditioning and then going to classes and trying to find time to eat. The amount of time and work that is now required of the college student-athlete has never been greater and neither has the pressure. College student-athletes tend to be highly motivated and highly driven to succeed, which is what has made them successful. Unfortunately it is this drive to both excel, and get a scholarship, that is leading to a greater number of surgeries and unfortunately a greater number of student-athletes that do not make it through all four years of competition.
The majority of media attention goes to the acute injuries, the dislocations or ACL tears, but time loss due to those injuries are shrinking thanks to improvements in surgical techniques and rehabilitation protocols. The chronic injury, though with much less fanfare, has become a ticking time bomb. Its the Doberman that is your friend while you are looking at him but bites you in the butt as soon as you are not paying attention to him.
Chronic injuries develop over time. They are annoying and uncomfortable but not usually painful enough to make you stop immediately. They may be caused from improper technique or from just simply doing too much and not letting your body rest. For all the advancements in medicine, rest can still be the best medicine. Proper rehab and treatment is essential to every injury but sometimes your body just needs some time to heal. No one likes to hear those words, especially a coach who is under the gun to win games or the student-athlete who fears they will lose their starting spot if they have to miss any time.
The question is, what do we do about it? I think baseball has figured it out. They meticulously monitor the amount of pitches a pitcher throws over the course of a game and a season. Even in little league there is a limit to the number of pitches one can throw. What a novel idea. Lets give them some rest so they can heal. Sure they can play other positions but it is a different force on the body and that is crucial. Look at professional sports. We make fun of them because they sit out for what seems to be a long time for something minor, especially baseball and basketball. What two sports have the longest careers, baseball and basketball. Sure they are not as violent but they also have learned to take care of their bodies. There is no one in particular to blame because it is as much on the athlete as it is the coach and sports medicine staff. The “I have to play at whatever cost” mentality has to stop. But remember we are dealing with highly motivated people both athletes and coaches. We have to help them understand one small battle at a time. Why do we expect are college and high school athletes to play through injuries we would not expect professionals to play through. Why do we feel the need to “push” through every injury.
I am not saying there is not a time or place to “suck it up” and play. There are absolutely times that it is fine to push through but we have taken that to extreme. We have become tired and broken down from years of playing the same sport all year round and never taking time to just let are bodies rest, and HEAL. This is slowly becoming an epidemic. It is costing us millions of dollars and also potentially causing long term problems, not to mention mental burnout and fatigue.
I have attached an excellent article that everyone in sports should read.