The Origin of Injury

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.”

10 Responses to “The Origin of Injury”

  1. Matt says:

    Good stuff Brent.

    I see this in girls tennis, its the feelings that are hurt more than the invented injury.

  2. lewis says:

    I feel that this is a really, big and fascinating topic, and I’m glad you bring it up. I’m sure there is some invented injury, but I think a large portion of injury is not. In classical Chinese Medicine there is no difference in our emotional body and our physical body, for ladies, or businessmen, or warriors, or any other way we choose to group people. I have had a long process in trying to come to peace with this view, because I too, grew up in our culture here in the U.S. and all that encompasses. I too have back issues, personally, that have totally changed my focus in life. If I go to a Western trained doctor that most of us are familiar with I will be told that, “I can ‘believe’ that there is some mental component that if changed that belief my back will get better, all I want, but there is physical structural issues that are damaged that isn’t the mind and will not change with the mind.” I don’t know if that is clear, but it is an out look on life and health and possibliity issue.
    It is fascinating that there can clearly be a structural damage, and yet my fear and the ability to stand up to the grind of life are so impactfull on my spine. Like you, Brent, I can clearly see a consistent pattern with how maxed out I am and the pain in my back. When I am overwhelmed, and drained, and maxed out, and for me yes, fearful, my back acts up. I have always struggled with the idea of being fearful, because I am a man, and am invincible, and I played ball in college, and did well…and fell apart and it messed me up mentally, because it changed how I defined myself, and where I was going in life (really it was kind of a death, it was big). Like, why would someone try and work so hard that their body falls apart. Why would they be that driven. In my case in 30 years of trying to come to terms, I see consistently when I don’t feel nourished, you know not ‘just digging it’ I feel it in my back, and I see a bit of fear even though I don’t feel good about admitting it. But, it is clear and it is empowering. It is a drag having to do things with the kids at times, because it isn’t what I would do on my own, but that is the beauty, it is magic and beautiful and it is just what it is and when I just breath, and see the kids doing beautiful kid things (even if it is pooping diapers, or punching holes in the roof of the car upholstery)…and I see my back starts feeling a little more relaxed and better, and there is still a physical trauma yet it feels good. I don’t know maybe that is a hint of glimps of ‘heaven on earth’? I don’t know I am not religious at all, but I see the flavor of what you are talking about. Maybe this idea is out there, or not someone else’s truth, and that is fine, but I relate to what you are saying Brent. This is a great web site, or blog or whatever these things are called. It is good work, and it is important that someone like you, that is looked up to by kids is saying so clearly your truth. Thanks for the good work.

  3. Brent Mayne says:

    Cool Lewis…I’m glad your picking up and relating to what I’m saying. It’s an interesting way of looking at injury/pain. Viewed this way, the pain can be your guide. I think of it as a simple and direct way for me to hear what the higher power is saying…maybe telling me to slow down or breath or whatever.
    You know the funny thing is, if you took an MRI of everyone, we’re all gonna have bulging discs and little tears and degenerative issues. It’s part of aging. So why are some people effected by it and some aren’t? Good stuff.

  4. Dan says:

    @ Lewis and Brent,
    Great stuff guys. As the father of an up and coming catcher in the travel ball Major / elite level, I get a chance to see what some coaches call, The “Melt Down” of any given althlete. Be it top level or not. The mental conection to…a sore arm…knee..shoulder ect… usually comes either before or after an intence situation on the field or bench. or even hours prior to competing. I have begun working with some resources from Winning State .com web site to try to subliminally (if possible),strenghten my sons mental part of the game, Prior, durning, in between and after competing, however, the your idea of learning to listen to your body for the signs of stress combined with the ability and knowledge of preparing or averting the “melt down” could prove to be a valuble combination…

  5. Dan says:

    Also Brent,
    Could oyu please provide me a contact point for you? I am interested in some private lessons. I’m from fullerton and available most weekdays or weekends.
    Thanks in advance

  6. Brent Mayne says:

    Hey Dan, my thoughts to help your son focus on learning how to play the game the right way for the right reasons. I’ve written many blogs on or around the subject, but they basically all come down to dealing with stress in a positive way (see the link in the Injury blog titled stressy) and finding a way to enjoy the game that has nothing to do with results. Good luck.
    Oh yeah, shoot me an email at for lessons.

  7. Royce the Cherokee says:

    I agree 100% with what you said about the 99%; hence the term ” Suck it up”!
    I am wounded but I am not slain, I shall lay me down and bleed awhile, then I shall rise and fight again!

  8. Gerry says:


    Some time ago, you wrote a bit about playing through pain and not whinning about whatever’s bothering you physically. I don’t recall whether it was in your “Tip of the Week” or your Blog, but the upshot of it (as I recall) was that players should either take themselves out, or play the game and quit their belly aching – nobody wants to hear it. If that’s still your guidance, it seems to me that you were writing then about what a player should present externally to teammates and other about their pain, while your writing above is about how players might respond internally to their pain. Yes? Or are you rethinking your earlier guidance?

  9. Brent Mayne says:

    Hey Gerry,
    I remember writing the post about pain and recall that it had something to do with “getting on with it” and the fact that, even if you’re hurting, nobody really cares. Either you can play or you can’t and if you can go, you better be mentally tough enough to overcome the feelings and concentrate on the task at hand. Something about no one feeling 100% and being able to get it done with what you have. I’m not sure about all of that though because, for some reason, I can’t find the post anywhere. Anyway, I’m not exactly sure what your question was, but I’ll take a stab at something to see if I can clarify.
    Both posts were trying to help someone become e a better player. The first by advising the athlete to acknowledge the hurt, make a decision whether he can go or not, and commit to that decision. Don’t get caught in-between where you’re focus is splintered. The last post was, more than anything, sharing my way of dealing with injury. A possible solution to either stop an injury altogether, curtail it from getting worse, or at least shorten its hold on you. A way to acknowledge your role in the injury (as opposed to just being an unlucky victim) and take some control. Because recall from the first post, when it comes right down to it, no one cares. It’s a tough world up there and you either produce or you don’t. Period. By not panicking, by being conscious of your stress levels and taking measures to control them, in my opinion, one can manage the pain threshold and ultimately stay on the field.
    Look, the bottom line is injuries happen and sometimes you’re going to find yourself on the DL. Nobody’s perfect and accidents happen. The reality is though, when you go on the DL, you can make damn sure that your team isn’t gonna field an 8 man team…someone is gonna take your place. The question remains, is injury just the luck of the draw, or do you play a part? I choose to take the later option, understanding at the same time that luck seems to play a part. Hope that makes things clearer.

  10. lewis says:

    Yeah, it is true there is no use complaining, and struggle and perseverence are a reality, and the capacity to feel lucky, recognizing the much tougher paths out there all the time that people lead …is really important. At the same time I can make what ever I’m doing empowering or powerless, and no one does that to me, but me. Even deciding which battles to fight or which are ‘my’ battles, is important for every person to find for themselves. We all have to develope as well as we can an ability to see clearly.

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