The dark side of sports: Athletes and injuries

By in Features/Sports & Health

Sports are supposed to be all fun and games; however, there is one word that all athletes cringe at the mention of  — injury. From the mildest sprain to the most severe break, no injury is ever a welcome one for athletes.

With athletes having to face a reality some of us will never know, a painful or threatening injury is one of the toughest things they will have to overcome — physically and mentally. Like a musician using their instrument, or a scientist using their equipment, athletes need their bodies to be in peak physical condition to be able to fully perform to their potential.

Although a majority of the injuries diagnosed are mostly just sprains, strains and pulls, the ones that really do damage are breaks, tears, concussions and dislocations. You’ve probably heard of the all-too-familiar ACL — anterior cruciate ligament — tear in the knee or the rising rates of concussions in sports; it’s these type of daunting injuries that are an athlete’s worst nightmare. In one moment, you can be stripped of everything you have worked so hard for and be forced to watch from the sidelines for up to a year.

Statistics Canada released a study in 2011 regarding injuries and the results are staggering. Adolescents between the ages of 12–19 have the highest likelihood of injury, with 27 per cent of teens suffering some sort of ailment. Of those 27 per cent, two out of three occurred due to a sports-related incident. If you break the numbers down, that means almost one in every five Canadian teens will suffer from some variation of a sports-related injury. In total, it is estimated that almost 35 per cent of Canadian injuries every year are caused by sports.

While a lot of these injuries are preventable by using better training methods and techniques, stretching and proper rest, many injuries that happen to high-performance athletes are just a result of bad luck.

Third-year Huskies basketball player Shane Osayande is a great example of this, as he had his 2014–15 season cut short due to a severe ankle injury, after drunking in practice. Osayande was diagnosed with a high, grade three sprain in his ankle and also tore some ligaments. He was originally crushed when he heard the news.

“At first I was devastated, just because it was in the Final Four. After talking with family and friends and coaches, it made me feel better — what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger,” Osayande said. “I just have to do the rehab and I know I am going to come back stronger than before.”

One place Huskie athletes can go to for the lengthy rehab process is the Summit Sports and Health clinic, owned and operated by University of Saskatchewan alumni Wade Phillips. After earning his undergraduate degree in physiology, Phillips went on to become a chiropractor in Toronto. Now back in Saskatoon with his wife, Phillips has opened up his own multi-disciplinary clinic, combining chiropractic, physiotherapy, registered massage therapy and personal training all under the same roof.

A high school quarterback himself once upon a time, Phillips enjoys helping out athletes and getting them back into game shape and stronger than they were before.

“The most common injuries we see at the clinic are definitely the tweaks, pulls and strains. The pulled hammy or a strained knee is one we help with a lot. With these types of injuries, we are always looking to not only help fully heal the muscle, but strengthen it to prevent re-injury,” Phillips said.

The rehab process can be a long and difficult one, depending on the injury, but Phillips and his staff make sure the athletes are aware of the process from day one.

info“Rehabilitation for these minor types of injuries can typically take a couple weeks to a month. Our biggest thing with athletes is that they all want to rush back and get back into it as quickly as possible, which in most cases isn’t what you want,” Phillips said. “The more severe injuries, like torn ligaments, can take up to a year to fully rehab. It’s a long process and we break it down into stages.

“First, you want to let the muscle heal and we work on the soft tissue before we do any rehab work. Then, once it’s healed long and properly enough, we do some basic movement and motor patterns that are similar to what they would experience in their sport. This is the longest portion of the process. From there, we work into more strength and conditioning to build the power and size of the muscle back to normal, and even stronger than it was to prevent it from happening again.”

Osayande has been working hard away from the court to ensure he gets back to playing with the Huskies before this season is over. After being given a workout plan by trainers and a physiotherapist, Osayande is doing a variety of different exercises, such as doing movements in the pool, strengthening in the weight room or working on his conditioning on the stationary bike. 

He is rehabbing almost three hours a day in order to make sure he gets back on the court. To some, that may be an impossible task but Osayande pushes himself through, knowing the rehab is necessary.

“Just knowing where I want to be and knowing that if I don’t rehab properly, I may never be able to play basketball ever again or ever have the same type of strength in my ankle. Knowing the consequences of not doing it and what could happen to me.”

Third-year Huskies defensive lineman Preston McIntyre suffered a scary knee injury earlier this season and went through some of the same thoughts and hardships as Osayande. McIntyre tore his MCL during a play and was forced to miss a month of action.

“When I initially went down on the field, I knew my knee was hurt but I had no idea how good or bad it would actually be. So when I saw a doctor after the game and was told I had torn my MCL, but would probably be able to recover before the season was over, I was actually relieved that it wasn’t worse,” McIntyre said. “But I was still obviously disappointed that I would be missing some significant time, and I was worried that after recovery my knee wouldn’t be the same as it was before the injury.”

For some athletes, the hardest part of overcoming a serious injury can be their mindset. With some in constant fear of reinjuring and others depressed due to their indefinite sidelining, the mental strength of these athletes is really put to the test.

Phillips understands the athletes’ point of view after being in their shoes not too long ago. He knows the rehab process isn’t always easy, but it’s for the best.

“It can be a long mental process for a lot of the athletes, but they are committed. The hardest part for a lot of them — and I was the same way when I played — is they want to jump back in as quickly as possible, and that’s where we come in to pull on the reigns a little, and say ‘slow down.’ We just talk them through the process and what they can expect every step of the way and what to expect when they finally get back in the game,” Phillips said.

McIntyre can attest to how mentally exhausting the rehab process can seem.

“Having to spend a couple of extra hours out of my day at physio definitely got mentally draining after a while, especially on days when it didn’t seem like I was making any progress. And during my first week back at practice after my injury, it was tough for me to be confident playing at full speed because the worry of hurting myself again was always in the back of my mind. But I got my confidence back pretty quickly after I played my first game after being injured and didn’t have any issues with my knee,” McIntyre said.

Although injuries are a part of the game, nobody ever wants to see somebody get hurt, especially seriously. Particularly at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, where these student-athletes aren’t getting paid, it is always a difficult thing to see. While the life of an athlete may seem glamorous, just remember, they are putting their bodies on the line each and every time they suit up.

Image: Stephanie Mah / Layout Manager