I am frequently asked “what is the advantage of having a doctor that is a former professional athlete?” as I was. Let me first start by saying that there are many great primary care providers that were not professional athletes so I don’t want to insinuate that I am smarter or more competent than they are. However, I can say that having been an athlete all my life (I remember playing sports with my older brothers when I was five years old) I can very much relate to the issues facing every athlete from the twelve-year-old little league pitcher (I pitched for many years) to the high school football, basketball, volleyball or other athletes (I was a four-sport varsity letterman in high school) to the college and even professional athlete.
Whether you are the classic “weekend warrior” or a starting linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers getting ready for the playoffs or the Super Bowl (as I was many times in my professional football career with two Super Bowl rings) the desire to get back on the field playing again as soon as possible needs to be balanced by the need to protect against making an injury worse, causing you to be out longer than you need to be. Unfortunately, in my more than fifty years of athletic competition (including eight years playing professionally in the NFL), I have probably encountered just about every injury known to athletes. This has allowed me to be very knowledgeable (and in fact MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE than I sometimes wished) about many different athletic injuries.
For example, trying to come back too quickly from a hamstring injury can put you at risk for making the injury worse and possibly injuring it permanently. But does that mean you have to sit out for the rest of the season to “protect it”? Of course not. In fact, you need to keep exercising your injured hamstring muscles but in a very constrained capacity and not rest it too much to allow your body to rebuild the muscle. Unfortunately there is no “play book” on how best to rehab a hamstring injury. Medical school and residency do not teach doctors those kinds of things as there is no real science to it. Like many things in the medical field, that is “the art” of medicine. Much of that knowledge comes from practical experience and many doctors have never had a hamstring injury before and can not appreciate the subtleties of an injury like that.
Are you a golfer who has experienced elbow pain (“golfer’s elbow” or the medical term “medial epicondylitis”)? How do you rehabilitate it so it does not continue to be painful for months? Although I will never be a professional golfer with my terrible “short game,” I have had that same injury and I can tell you they are very tricky to rehabilitate. So how do you get back to your weekend golf game and winning the club championship without risking being out for four months? Or how about that ankle sprain? Can I play next Wednesday night on my YMCA basketball team? And if not, how do I get back to playing as soon as possible? These are all questions that you can not look up in a medical textbook because every person is different in terms of what they can tolerate and how they need to titrate their rehab.
But it’s more than just diagnosing the injury and putting a rehab program in place that can get you back on the course or court as soon as possible. A great physical therapist can execute on that program and guide you in your rehabilitation needs. They can show you how to correctly perform those specific exercises to strengthen the muscle without causing more damage or injury. The correct rehab program can help you to quickly recover without making the injury worse. Here at The Village Doctor we have relationships and experience working with the top physical therapy groups in the bay area. They can train you on the correct exercises and to work with you to rebuild those muscles appropriately or on stretching exercises to improve your flexibility.
Many of these injury questions do not need a specialist in sports medicine and certainly not an orthopedic surgeon who is trained to “cut” (e.g. operate) to fix things. Of course, if you tear the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in your knee, you need the correct diagnosis. Once confirmed, I would certainly refer you to one of my sports medicine orthopedic colleagues (of which I am fortunate to have many due to all my orthopedic issues in the past) to discuss options to repair it if needed.
But enough about rehabilitating injuries… How does one prevent injuries from happening? What can an athlete do to reduce the risk of getting injured? At the Village Doctor, not only do we focus on treating injuries and illness, but as a concierge primary care provider, we have the time to spend with our patients to discuss preventive measures to help avoid injury. There are definitely things any athlete can do to reduce the chances of injury. This is in addition to discussing your general overall health and “non athletic” preventive maintenance issues.
So if you are a former professional athlete, a forty-five year old “weekend warrior”, or a senior citizen just wanting to exercise to take off those ten extra “LBs”, I would love to discuss my thoughts and experience with you to help you meet your goals and keep you as healthy as you possibly can be! And especially to get you back onto the field or court as soon as possible so you can continue to live your athletic dream.
Milt McColl, MD, February 2, 2023