Why Athletes Don't Even Know They Need Neuromuscular Control?

Being injured all of the time is not normal. If you're an athlete, it doesn't necessarily mean you will be frequently injured or in pain. Yes, sports do increase your odds of getting hurt, but they don't guarantee it. In fact, I played basketball and baseball throughout my life and I remember less than a handful of injuries. Of course some of that was simply luck of the draw. However, now as a physical therapist, I realize there's so much more to it.

My favorite football team has always been the Dallas Cowboys. It seems like every year Sean Lee is out for several games due to a hamstring injury. Could it be that he is just one of those unlucky dudes that always seems to get hurt? Or could it be possible that Sean Lee is missing something vital from his training program?

In 2014, we got a chance to work with Princeton University's Field Hockey team. We took each player through a neuromuscular testing protocol, comprised of a series of 8 tests for the upper extremities, lower extremities, and lumbopelvic region. The results revealed that the older players, Juniors and Seniors, were stronger than the Freshmen and Sophomores. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that High School strength training programs are not as intense as D1 strength training programs. Although, what's interesting is that all players displayed similar AREAS of weakness. The older players were just not as bad as the younger ones.

When tested on the suspension ropes, everyone displayed a lack of control from their hip abductors, hip adductors, and hamstrings. My guess is that when you are weak in the "frontal plane" hip stabilizers, it puts more strain on the hamstrings. This may be Sean Lee’s problem. Or maybe just being in that bent position all game simply weakens the hamstrings, due to it being overloaded.

After testing the players, we showed the Princeton team and staff how to start correcting their muscle imbalances through a series of exercises performed on the Redcord suspension system. We then came back periodically to check up on them.

During that season, the Princeton team had no musculoskeletal injuries. That's almost unheard of in collegiate sports. Was the Princeton Medical staff that much better than the Dallas Cowboys staff? I don’t think so, but you never know?! What's the one thing that separated the two teams? It was learning how to assess and train with Redcord!

Young athletes today are not the same as they were 20-30 years ago. Back in the day, the majority of athletes played multiple sports and were way more active than today’s young athletes. In fact, my son’s school gave awards out to the athletes that played three sports. They were only 9 that received one of those certificates that evening. Today’s kids have a lot more distractions than when I was a kid. A British study showed that kids sit in front of some kind of screen or device 40 plus hours per week. If I had access to computers, iPads, and video games, I too would be less active and probably more injured. Kids that only play one sport have limited movement pattern variation because they are constantly grooming a very specific pattern for that one sport. When you do the same movement over and over again, you most likely will get injured.

Another reason young athletes are getting injured is due to the fact that there are no more off-seasons. Or if there is one it is short-lived. A lot of athletes play on a club team all year long and will still play for their school team or maybe even a rec team. This type of commitment leads to the body breaking down due to a lack of recovery.Just like with our workouts, our bodies need to rest from one workout to the next. Why don’t parents and coaches believe this to be true with young athletes playing sports all year round?

If young athletes are sticking with only one sport and then sitting in front of some kind of screen for 40 hours per week, when is there time to train the body to be prepared for the demands of that specific sport? The truth is they are not. They are sitting more than any other generation of athletes and thus getting more injured.

Training in the ropes will allow you to strengthen the pelvic and core region, thus allowing you to absorb those ground reaction forces. This can make you more prepared for your specific sport. The movements also mimic function by forcing you to control your pelvis and core during body weight-bearing activities no matter what the exercise. This mimics real-life movements that you would typically see with sports and daily activities.

Learning how to control your pelvis and core with hundreds of different unstable exercises will also introduce your body to a variety of movement patterns. The more your body is introduced to this, the less likely you are to get hurt. That's because the movement is not foreign to the body. It has been introduced to it so many times before.

If you are reading this blog and it resonates with you or one of your kids, the problem cannot just be ignored. Working through it won’t make the injury disappear. It could even get worse. The best thing to do is get tested in the Redcord. The ropes don’t lie. It will surface the "weak links" within your kinetic chain, especially around the pelvic and core region. This will give you a starting point on what to focus on to recover from injury, prevent recurrence, and enhance performance.

If you are only focusing on one sport, I’m not saying that you need to start playing a second one. But I am saying that beginning a training or rehab program with a qualified physical therapist is a must. You need to make time to add this to your training program. It's been proven to work.

You will never know until you give it a shot. What do you have to lose? It's far better than sitting on the sidelines watching your teammates play, while you continue to rehab that bum___________ (insert whatever body part here) over and over again.

Check out my previous blog post on how we helped two professional sports teams become champions.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

Tyler Joyce, Co-Founder

Lead Physical Therapist
Tyler is a 20+ year experienced physical therapist and co-founder at Activcore. He practices in Princeton, New Jersey, just 2 miles from Princeton University. Growing up as a baseball pitcher and all-around athlete, Tyler specializes in helping competitive baseball players and weekend athletes recover from injury and return to their sport and active, pain-free lives.
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