Injury Recovery is a Flawed Process- An Interview with Dr. Tommy John

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 18: Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers sustains an injury before he is tagged out at home by J.T. Realmuto #11 of the Miami Marlins as he attempts to score from third base during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Dodger Stadium on May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 18: Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers sustains an injury before he is tagged out at home by J.T. Realmuto #11 of the Miami Marlins as he attempts to score from third base during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Dodger Stadium on May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Ferrari- a perfect car in great condition. On the outside, the car is everything you could have wanted and is worth every penny you will pay for it. But, what if that car had been used prior to you purchasing it and every time it was driven, the gas tank was filled up with sugar. It was beautiful on the outside but destroyed on the inside.

Would you still buy the car?

Now, take a high school baseball player. An 18-year old ballplayer ready to play in the majors and he, like a Ferrari is built to perfection on the outside. By looking at him, the young athlete is everything a scout could want: he is tall, strong, throws in the mid to high 90s, and plays excellent defense. But, he too, like his metaphorical companion, The Ferrari, was filled with sugar, broken, and prone to an injury later in his career.

Would you draft the player?

Baseball has a history of “buying the sugar-filled Ferrari” because scouting prior to the MLB Draft is about the physical aspects and outward appearance of a player and his performance on the field. The player is subject to a physical but not even that can fully predict a player’s health for the next 10 to 15 years thus, the system must change. Teams must change their scouting strategies and center them on health habits and routine rather than investigating performance. To help explain this and the American injury epidemic, Dr. Tommy John III, son of former major leaguer Tommy John, expert sports performance and healing specialist, and author of his new book Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance has given some of his time to discuss the American injury epidemic and how to prevent it.

 Dr. Tommy John III knows the injury epidemic all too well. From his father’s famous elbow surgery which is now one of the most common sports operations ever, to his own bout with arm issues and surgeries. His passion for helping young athletes, the reason for writing his book, is rooted in his history with injury and it all started on his road to pro-ball.

"“I knew something was wrong,” John said of his shoulder. “I went in for an MRI just to be sure my shoulder soreness wasn’t anything serious, which in fact was just that…inflammation. Nothing serious.  But the real horror was soon to follow after the dye injection.”"

“Real horror” is an understatement. John was diagnosed with an anterior capsule infection in his throwing arm and would soon come down with a fever, nausea, and other severe symptoms all of which would lead to a surgery that would end his baseball career just after it got started.

His arm was rendered useless for pitching but his injury, while making his arm worse, made his mind for helping others much stronger. Dr. Tommy John III would now begin his journey in uncovering the truth behind sports injuries.

The foundation for his thesis would start with himself:

"“Having performed over 11,000 baseball lessons I saw a common trend: players with great mechanics got injured, and one’s with inefficient ones didn’t. So it got me thinking, mechanics are important no doubt, but there is something deeper leading to the injured throwers that mechanics and pitch counts will never touch.”"

That realization turned to study. He would go on to learn more about routines and the health habits of players before during and after they pushed themselves to do sports under extreme circumstances. And it was here, that he was able to notice a pattern:

"“With mechanics being ruled out I was able to conduct a study where I noticed patterns among the injured and it all came down to three things: first was nutrition, what is a player doing to keep himself healthy off the field. Second was conditioning, is the player being overworked, is he playing six months out of the year and taking the other six off or is he playing 365 days a year. And lastly was recovery, if a player gets hurt is he being allowed the time that he needs or is it the time that a coach wants?”"

And it was this line that provoked a serious thought. Is it on the athletes or is the injury epidemic in America resting squarely on the shoulders of the coaches.

Athletes in today’s day and age are being overworked. They are lifting weights, throwing hundreds of pitches per outing every few days and setting precursors for serious injuries later in their careers.

According to a professional baseball player who asked to remain anonymous for this article, he said that the baseball world is broken. This player shared that management today builds recovery timetables catered to the well being of the team, not the well being of the player.

"“A Tommy John surgery patient is given a 12-15 month timetable to recover but he may need anywhere from 12-18 months and we just aren’t getting that sort of time,” the player said.“I can honestly tell you that careers are ended because of overuse, poor routine, and a recovery processes that is not pure, it is tarnished by the people who want you back on the field to make money and honestly, the quicker we get back, the better for them, not us.”"

And, unfortunately, this is a trend noticed but Dr. John himself. He said the following on his patients and observations he has made with them:

"“Kids are constantly over-worked and specialized too early, they lift weights on top of poor movement patterns, pitch twice a week and throw over 100 pitches in each outing, which under healthy conditions is ideal, but can’t happen on an overspecialized, poorly trained body.  In addition to their strenuous on-field activities, some of these athletes are dealing with stressful at home situations, are overstimulated from technology abuse and are less aware, have poor work or dietary habits and all of this leads to one thing- preventable injuries.”"

More from Dodgers Way

The baseball world is a business. It is built for the fans and for the money and like any other professional sport, the business does not start at the pro-league. It is rooted deep in the system, trickling down to high school and even below that in junior-high and youth-club leagues that are not affiliated with a school.

The business has one goal: make the athletes great and keep them on the field. But, keeping them on the field comes at a cost and it is a one that the businessmen- coaches, front office staff, and ownership- are all too comfortable with paying. They rush players back from injuries to keep them on the field so the money flows in.

But, these injuries are preventable. Athletes need to build healthy routines and coaches need to learn a healthy way of coaching. And, in the event that someone does get hurt, as Dr. John points out, the recovery process is unique and personal for every player and that is ultimately how leagues can build healthy franchises, by working with players on a case by case basis.

Dr. John’s book explains this processes of healing and how to properly take care of yourself. After reading it, I urge you strongly to do the same especially if you are a parent, coach, or trainer of young athletes because you can be a part of a change. This change would build healthy routines and in the future, build athletes that will be talented and stay healthy while doing so. To purchase the book, click here.

Sports are a beautiful thing, but it is time to change how we prepare athletes and how we take care of them because as it stands, the system is flawed.

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