As the season changes

Friday, August 10, 2007

As the dog days of summer progress through pennant races, some of us watch the seasons change from baseball to football and the injury patterns become more violent.

Baseball injuries occur when the body is asked to extend itself forcefully through a range of motion. Throw faster, run quicker, swing harder. Aside from the occasional collision, the injuries test the limits of joints, ligaments and muscles. The sprains and strains may lead to surgery, but most often lend themselves to rest, ice and aggressive amounts of ibuprofen.

Then football arrives with a completely different esthetic. The throwing and running still exist with their injury issues, but the violence that pits one player against another, time after time demands that the body will wilt. The injuries are brains and spinal cords that are concussed, bones that are broken and organs that are contused and torn.

Watching football on television doesn’t allow the viewer to appreciate the speed or size of the athlete. Elite athletes, cloaked in armor, running at full speed, intent on the next big hit, whose only goals are to create mayhem and ostensibly to injure.

The physics of movement demand that for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If two players of equal size and speed hit each other square up, there should be no movement backwards and a standoff exists. But not all hits are perfectly square and because of different forces, players are tackled to the ground, forced out of bounds or driven back. When a forceful hit is applied and the player cannot absorb it, his field position is lost and it also sets the stage for potential injury. Direct blows, torque injuries, shear forces; terms that apply race car engineering similarly apply to the body.

And on the sideline, the medical staff watches. It isn’t a case of if an injury will occur, but rather, when it will. The adrenalin rush of caring for a trauma victim rises with each play and with each hit, yet the fear is that the player won’t get up and an ambulance will roll onto the field.

Every football player knows that the next play may be his last. Every trainer fears that they will be there to confirm that reality.

And for some of us, it offers opportunity to use what happens on the field of play to explain medical care and how it might apply to regular folk. The research that is done on elite athletes filters its way to the general population. It’s hard to imagine the visual of a 300 pound lineman….athlete as guinea pig.

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