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News and Blog

Injury and Recovery

October 05, 2011  | by Steven Jackson

Injury. Every athlete, especially football players, knows it's a possibility and yet we still must play the game without fear. Injuries are a part of our game. Some guys have to deal with them more than others, but for all of us it's something we try our best to avoid. To play and to play well with an injury is a badge of honor.

Everyone's threshold for pain is different, but it's also a dangerous risk to the athlete's personal health. Over the last few weeks I've been dealing with an injury that was a pretty serious one to my right quad. On a run during our first game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles, I suffered a partial tear in that quad.

I knew it was bad when it happened because I just didn't feel right. I tried to go out on the field for one more play, but my body was telling me that something was seriously wrong. The night of the injury, I iced it like crazy. I was icing for 30 minutes in 90-minute intervals all night. You ice mainly to try to keep swelling down. 

If you allow the injury to swell, it can be several days before you get a true read for the injury in an MRI. Icing that night probably bought us a few days to begin with, even though it wasn't until the next day that I learned how severe the injury was.

That Monday morning after our game with the Eagles, I went to get an MRI. Thanks to technology, I didn't have to wait long after to know my condition because it comes back really fast. Within an hour we would know what we were looking at.

When we got the results back, I was told about the tear and that it was an injury I would miss 4-6 weeks to recover from. When the doctor explains the injury, they give you a generalization of the normal recovery time for people with this injury and what the recovery process is. I was also told that it is an injury where all you can do is rest and take time to allow that muscle that was torn to heal itself and let scar tissue develop over it. Only once that happens can you work on the strength and flexibility of it and regaining confidence in the leg.

POWER OF POSITIVE THOUGHT

For an athlete, there are a few ways to respond to these things, situations of adversity, when they happen.

Some guys take a conservative approach by rehabbing the injury and allowing time for the injury run its course. A second option, and I hate to say it but it does happen, is that the athlete becomes depressed and allows the injury to defeat them.

In doing so, at least in my opinion, you slow down the healing process. The body responds to the words that come out of your mouth and your positive thoughts. The more proactive you can be on top of following medical advice, the quicker you can overcome your injury. That's the approach I took.

I'm a firm believer in positive thinking, I feel that what you think and what you believe can have a real effect on how the body reacts. The more you believe something, I truly think that your body will start buying into those thoughts.

So as soon as I got the report that I was looking at missing 4-6 weeks of the season, I was really determined to cut that time in half and I was more focused on the four-week side than the six-week side. From the moment I got the news, I was already telling myself that I only wanted to miss two weeks at most.

I was going to do my best to rehab, even if I had to stay up at night and rehab or get up in the middle of the night and rehab. I was going to do whatever I could at home to speed up the process. Then, once each day started, I would maximize what was available to me at the team facility with the training staff so that I could get the healing process moving at a faster rate.

After the MRI, I immediately went to my acupuncturist. Acupuncture is a big part of my recovery from week-to-week anyway, but for the first few days after I hurt my quad, they could only put the needles around the injured area, not on it. Only as the muscle starts to react and the swelling gets out of there can you be more aggressive with the needles and put them at the site of the injury. As I recovered, I went for acupuncture for 13 days straight.

At the same time, I was seeing my own personal doctor daily, even on the weekends. I'm very grateful that he would be so flexible with me to help me get back at a faster pace. For those first few days, I was really limited to icing the quad and going through the acupuncture.

A GOOD SIGN

After about three or four days, toward the end of that week going into the Monday Night game against the New York Giants, we noticed that the strength in my leg didn't go away even after I suffered the injury.

That was a really positive sign. With the leg strong, I was able to do manual leg extensions to get the quad muscle firing so it didn't become weak. In those last few days of the week and over the weekend, the muscle showed that it was healing at a really rapid pace. I was confident enough to leave St. Louis and head for New York with the team.

I was very optimistic all weekend and when I headed to the stadium on Monday it was about 50/50 whether I would play. In my mind, I was just trying to send those positive thoughts. I wanted the things that I was thinking and tweeting to become reality as I tried to align my mind and my body in getting ready.

It actually came down to a pregame workout to see if I could play in that Monday night game. We were really close. A lot closer than people thought or knew. In that workout, 90 minutes before the game, I was able to do 5 to 10-yard bursts. But anything over 10 yards is when you start to really open up your stride in running and as I tried to lengthen that part of the leg, I could tell that the quad was just not ready. It's a painful thing and going out there on one leg against world-class athletes is no fun. They're not going to take it easy on you.

This is where the leadership of our training staff on the Rams and our head coach Steve Spagnuolo stepped in. Many times we as athletes need protection from ourselves. That's when (even I must admit) medical advice and training staff expertise comes into play. I wanted to give it a go, but in doing so, I was at a huge risk of reinjuring it, making the tear worse. That for sure would have set me back another month or so.

It was tough to sit out our Monday night game, but it was in my best interest to wait and heal further.

It was really hard for me to swallow the fact that I would miss such a big game. We had the attention of the football world on us, Monday night, and you never want to go 0-2. You want to show the world what you've been working on all offseason, all training camp, that we're legit, that we're for real.

To not be able to be a physical presence on the field when my team had something to prove was really difficult. I just didn't feel like I was out there battling with my guys. I kind of felt like my hands were tied. At the same time, it wouldn't be fair to my team for me to play. Let's say a big play presented itself and I wasn't able to hit the home run on a long touchdown run, that would have been really selfish of me to go out there and not be able to seize the moment.

PROACTIVE TREATMENT

We made the right decision in resting that game and getting me back on the field the next week with only one game missed.

When we decided that I wasn't going to be able to go on Monday night, we looked at it proactively as to say, "What is still bothering me? What is the main issue we have to overcome with the quad?"

The answer was the lengthening phase. Generating the power and the drive for sprinting was still an issue. The muscle had started to lay and the scar tissue had started to lay, but we had to make sure that while that scar tissue was laying, that we didn't let it get too restrictive.

So in that second week, after missing the Giants game, we went back to St. Louis and really focused on the strength and flexibility. I continued acupuncture and continued the manual strengthening things for leg extension, but as the week went on, I also moved on to light leg presses and lunges, all weight bearing. By doing that throughout the week, I was getting the muscle firing and working on the flexibility and range of motion of the quad.

At home, I brought my Game Ready, which is a portable compression and ice machine, into my room. The Game Ready has a setting that allowed me to ice throughout the night. Even in my sleep the machine turned on automatically and circulated around the quad area. That's how I was able to sleep and ice instead of having to get in my cold tub in the basement.

A LIMITED WORKLOAD

Everyone was really surprised and happy that I was healing at such a rapid pace, but you always have to be cautious.

All it takes is one mistake, one error in judgment to set everything back and negate all of the progress we had made. You have to look at it seriously and think, 'the normal recovery for this is four to six weeks, can it possibly be ready this soon?'

The doctors and trainers didn't know how much of what they were seeing in my mobility and progress was my will of just wanting to be out there on the field and how much was the muscle being 100 percent healed with no risk of me being reinjured or tearing the muscle further. But I have a good reputation for being a fast healer and as much as they might hate to admit it, I sometimes prove the doctors and trainers wrong.

But I think that is a good thing. I've worked really hard to keep myself in tip-top shape and I take pride in knowing myself. I can't just rely on what goes on when I'm in the building with the training staff and wait on them to nurse me back to health. I take control of the situation, I embrace the challenge and I attack it full on. I think I actually work harder when I'm hurt than I do when I'm healthy, if that's possible.

With me feeling well and the trainers pleased with my progress, we agreed that I would play on that Sunday in Week 3 against the Baltimore Ravens in a limited role. I was happy that I was able to get out on the field and have a presence within our team.

I wish the outcome of the game was different. But the rotation between Cadillac and I allowed me to ease my way back into a game so that I could be safe with the injury while at the same time getting ready for the rest of the season with this team.

I wasn't at 100 percent for that game, but unlike that week before, I could feel that if a big hole had presented itself and I needed to sprint for a big gain, I do think I could have done it. I would have been able to withstand the lengthening part of the run. I could have been explosive enough. Whereas, that week before, there was no way that could have happened.

Playing in Week 3 allowed me to be ready for a full workload this past week against the Washington Redskins. Hard work really pays off and that saying goes a long way healthy or not.

My hard work after the injury allowed me to play at full speed earlier than doctors thought possible.

100 PERCENT

Coming out of that game this past Sunday, I feel good from a physical standpoint.

Mentally, I'd like for us to be in a better position as a team than 0-4. But physically, coming out of the bye, I will be ready to give my all to help this team dig out of the hole we've put ourselves in these first four weeks.

I had no injuries, no setbacks on Sunday and this bye is actually coming at a pretty good time for me. It will allow me to get confidence in the muscle again and be ready to kick off the next 12 weeks with a full head of steam. In these next two weeks, I'll be focusing on my conditioning.

In those two weeks that we were allowing the muscle to calm itself down and getting the inflammation out, I was not able to run, so I did my conditioning in the pool. This last game on Sunday, I was in for 70 snaps. The reason I was able to do that was because I was doing conditioning in the pool. Now that my leg is back, I can actually do some of the on the field stuff that I wasn't able to do for two weeks.

I can now say that I'm 100 percent healthy from a physical standpoint and I'm looking forward to the next challenge. That's going to Green Bay and getting this team our first win of the season.