Ask the Expert: In the Mind of the NFL Athlete
In this week’s installment of Ask the Expert, Dr. Scott Rodeo, Orthopedic Surgeon and Associate Team Physician for the New York Giants, answers questions on what it’s like in the mind of an NFL athlete.
1. By the end of the regular season NFL players must be pretty beat up. How do players keep healthy entering into the Super Bowl?
A: The NFL season as long, with a total of 20 games (4 preseason and 16 regular season). It is common for various injuries to accumulate over the course of the season. This can sometimes be a factor for teams that are in the playoffs at the end of the season. Players optimize their health by working with the medical professionals that each team has to take care of the athletes. This medical team consists of orthopedic physicians, primary care physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and sometimes other resources such as massage therapists, chiropractors, etc. The team medical staffs help to optimize players’ health over the course of the season by constantly evaluating injuries and providing ongoing management, treatment, and rehabilitation. In addition to identification and management of injury, other important factors such as nutrition and strength and conditioning are addressed all throughout the season in order to further optimize player health and recovery from injury.
2. Along with the physical demands of football there must also be a lot of pressure leading up to the Super Bowl. How does this impact the players mentally and physically?
A: The psychological factors related to the stress of competition as well as injuries are recognized and acknowledge by team medical staffs. This is all part of the comprehensive care of the athlete. Each team also has a sports psychologist available for athletes in the event that their intervention may be helpful. There is no doubt that psychological stress can impact management and physical injury, and this is taken into account when evaluating and managing injuries in these athletes.
3. Since the Super Bowl is at Metlife Stadium this year – it is likely to be cold. There has been talk that some players don’t play as well in the cold. How does the weather affect a player’s ability and physical health?
A: Outside of their extreme conditions, weather itself it is unlikely to play a significant role in the players physical health or performance. Over the course of the season, most teams experience various types of weather and thus have some experience playing in different environments. The teams also have extensive equipment and resources to mitigate any potential adverse effects of weather. For example, uniforms and type of cleats may be adjusted based on temperature or the presence of rain or snow. Furthermore, there are heaters and heated benches on the sidelines for athletes to use between plays. In fact, extreme heat and humidity are typically more worrisome from a medical standpoint than cold weather.
4. How do players and their team physicians make the decision if they should play with an injury? How can this hurt a player in the long run?
A: Our primary focus and responsibility as a team physician is to protect the athlete’s health. The athletes are carefully assessed over the course of the week as a given injury is managed. If it is felt that an injury will impact the player’s current performance or future long-term health, they are simply not allowed to play. These basic criteria are no different in the preseason or the postseason. There are certainly instances where it is safe for a player to compete with a minor injury, and the team physician and medical staff has the responsibility to inform a player of any risks associated with playing with an injury. This allows the athlete to make an informed decision. Ultimately, our primary responsibility is to protect the athlete’s health and to work within the medical team to make an informed decision that is in the athlete’s best interest.
5. What do the players need from their team physicians on the field, sidelines or in the locker room during a game?
A: Each team has a comprehensive medical system that is in place to evaluate and manage injuries both in the locker room as well as on the sidelines. There are orthopedic physicians as well as primary care specialists available at all times. Thus, there is expertise present to evaluate and manage a wide range of injuries and illnesses. Standard diagnostic equipment including x-rays is also available at each stadium to aid in player evaluation. The athletic training staff has extensive equipment such as splints, braces, taping, etc. to protect and aid players during a game here.
Dr. Scott Rodeo is an orthopedic surgeon and the co-chief of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He specializes in sports medicine injuries of the knee, shoulder, ankle, and elbow. He also performs arthritis surgery of the knee and shoulder, including joint replacement surgery. Dr. Rodeo is Associate Team Physician for the New York Giants and has taken care of the team through four Super Bowl appearances.