Story by Rich Fisher | Correspondent
As a senior on the Trenton Catholic Academy boys’ soccer team, Aaron Heller admits that he and others his age probably take their health for granted.
“We definitely do; I know I do at least,” said Heller, a parishioner of St. Raphael-Holy Angels, Hamilton. “Especially when you see other older athletes get injured. You don’t want to be like that so learning now is definitely an eye opener so you don’t do it in the future ... or even now.”
Learning tips to avoid injuries was one of the reasons Heller was happy to attend an Aug. 17 talk given by Dr. John P. Nolan, an orthopaedic surgeon who is board-certified in sports medicine and general orthopaedics. Nolan, one of the founders of Mercer-Bucks Orthopaedics, gave an informal talk at TCA concerning anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) strengthening and injury prevention.
The talk was set up by TCA boys’ soccer coach Chris Dailey, who had about 25 of his Match Ready soccer camp players on hand, along with Heller from the Iron Mikes.
“Awareness,” said Dailey when asked what his impetus was. “We want our players to be more aware of what they can do to protect their bodies to perform at their best level.”
The coach said he and representatives of Mercer-Bucks Orthopaedics have discussed a way of presenting the information to young athletes over the past year.
“And here we are today discussing what’s best for us to keep players safe and sound and performing at a high level,” Dailey said.
Dailey feels that athletes need to understand the physical issues they face as much as what a coach wants them to learn from a playbook.
“The more you know, the better you are positioned to perform effectively,” he said. “We look at it as a marathon. We want to prepare athletes for the long haul. If we don’t do these things they won’t be prepared. To me it's common sense and something we want to put at the front of our program and so we make it a priority. If our athletes aren’t fit or well, they can’t perform.”
Nolan said that he and other doctors at Mercer-Bucks give a number of talks each year. The presentation may change depending upon the audience. If it’s a group of physicians or trainers, the lingo will be a little more sophisticated than it was Aug. 17.
But the message is always the same – preparation can prevent injuries.
“I think it’s important that the kids know how to take good care of their bodies, basically,” Nolan said. “There’s a lot of things they can do to lower their risk of injury. When it comes to knee injuries and concussions, I think the more aware they are, the more likely they are to lower their risk of injuries.
“It’s a combination of being aware in terms of preventing injuries, being aware in terms of knowing how to rehabilitate injuries and being an educated consumer when it comes time to getting medical care when you have a problem.”
Using a slide presentation, Nolan showed the different types of injuries and pointed out where boys and girls get hurt most frequently. He discussed ankle sprains, upper leg strains, hip strains, knee injuries and concussions, and noted that a player’s injury rate is four times higher during a game than in practice.
In terms of prevention, Dailey said his teams go out on the field and immediately start shooting on goal. The doctor prescribed a pre-game warm-up to get loose first, such as a light jog and some stretching.
Nolan provided handouts that highlighted different exercises athletes can do to strengthen their knees, and discussed what goes into an ACL surgery. He also explained that, while ACL injuries are serious injuries, they are fairly common – and three to four times more common in women than in men.
“It’s an injury that requires surgery, often times, and one that can set back, or, if not treated properly can end a person’s career,” he said. “Surprisingly, young athletes do very well with recovery. They’re very motivated. Generally, athletes do much better than you would expect in terms of the amount of discomfort they don’t have following the surgery. Generally speaking, they’re very motivated and that’s a big part in doing well.”
Sue Kelvasa, a physical therapist at Mercer-Bucks, also was on hand to talk with the athletes and said as people gain flexibility, their risk of an ACL injury decreases. She also provided ways to run, jump and land, telling the audience to “be mindful of the position of your knee” because ACL problems are caused when the knee gets twisted.
Nolan also warned that players should not try to be heroes, and must immediately tell their coach if they are struggling with pain or a potential concussion. That made an impact on Heller.
“What I took out of this is, no matter what, there’s always going to be injuries and you need to make sure you’re caring about yourself enough to tell the coach not to keep you in,” he said. “If you get yourself more injured, you’ll let your team down because you’ll be out longer.
“And I’m definitely gonna look at those packets they brought. I’m going to try to get the whole team to look at them, too, and hopefully it helps us get fewer injuries this season.”