September 4, 2010
I’ve always had a theory about injuries. I’m obviously not a doctor so take this with a grain of salt, but here’s how I chose to look at the process. First of all, I view just about all injury as stress related. It seems to me that about 99 percent of baseball trauma comes from some sort of inflammation. Tendonitis, bursitis, pulls, swelling, aches, and pains.
Once in a while you’ll see broken bones and whatnot, but those are a rarity. Like I said, most hurts that sideline guys are related to heat, inflammation, and stress. Now here’s where my theory may lose some of you. I think most of these problems are physical manifestations which originate in the mind.
Kind of like the ulcer problems back in the day. Remember when ulcers were popular? For a long time, everyone had an ulcer. But then doctors figured out that they were simply a physical manifestation of stress and bam, nobody has ulcers anymore. Now people have back problems. I think they are basically the same thing. And I think you can lump just about all the baseball injuries into the same boat.
There’s a prejudice in our society (definitely in sport) about people who can’t hack it. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” In baseball we used to say, “if you’re scared, get a dog.” Nobody wants to admit they go to a shrink, go to the team “talking doctor,” or go on the DL due to mental strain. So what happens? I think the body figures out a way to get you out – and save face by manifesting an injury.
I believe that the body is smart enough to get us out of situations that are too “hot,” or too intense. I know this is true for me. Whenever my life gets a little out of control or pressurized, my back goes out. Coincidence? I used to think so, but the pattern repeated itself far too much and I was forced to take personal responsibility.
I’m not claiming that athletes are faking. Absolutely not. When my back gets locked up, it fricking hurts. I NEED to lay on the couch for a few days to let that thing calm down. The point is, in my way of looking at injury, if I would have taken care of business and had the consciousness to notice that my life was getting a little squirrelly, my body may not have needed to find an excuse (back lock up) to take me out of the game and make me relax.
So, for me, the back pain takes me out of a lot of situations that I don’t want to be in without having to say that I’m stressed out. And that’s basically the same process I see going on in professional sports. Pro sports are mentally stressful. In baseball, it never ends. Day in and day out for 162 games, you’re getting pounded. If you’re not really mentally tough, you’re going on the DL at some point. Your body will simply be looking out for your best interest.
This is a tough viewpoint to take, especially as an athlete. It’s tough because you’re ultimately responsible. It’s easy to blame missing games on injury…ah, shoot, my back went out. Or, I pulled a hammy. It’s not so easy to say I got injured because I was going too good, or too bad, or just couldn’t take anymore. But I really think (outside of the rare broken bone or something) that’s the reality.
So what does one do? First off, don’t panic. For me, it was a relief to believe that my injury wasn’t career ending, or gonna require surgery…even though at the moment it might have felt like it. It was a relief to know that 99 percent of the time it was just inflammation that was going to go away in time. So I didn’t need to panic and compound the stress problem. Most of the time I just kept moving. Kept the blood flowing and flushing out. Yoga. Stretching, jogging, long toss. Breathe. Try to have a more positive viewpoint and reaction to stress. Sometimes I blew right by the warning signs and the inflammation progressed to the point where I had to take some time off to let things mellow. But most of the time I just worked through it. The hardest part is taking responsibility without placing judgement on yourself for getting yourself into this bind. Blame just makes the cycle worse.
It’s all a big learning process. And it ain’t easy. It’s really, really hot at the top. If it’s not one thing it’s another to take you down. Not only do you need to have the skill to compete with the best, but you need the discipline, the diet, the mental toughness, and a decent amount of luck to stay off the DL and on the field. Just ask Strasburg, or Prior, or any number of players who got whacked. Like I said, it’s all a learning process and by choosing to take responsibility, you can go from being a victim to embodying the saying “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”