Monday, October 22, 2012
An inside look into treating older players
By Jared Zwerling
With the Knicks being the oldest team in NBA history, it begs the question: What goes into keeping a veteran player active for an entire season? ESPNNewYork.com consulted with a former Olympic and NBA Team Physician of the Year, who's going on his 25th season treating pro ballers, for some answers.
Here are six things you should know:
1. It's important to individualize treatments. "Older players have probably had more injuries, and more wear and tear. First, you work with them on flexibility, stretching and warmup, and then you individualize what you do for each player. If they have a knee issue, you may not practice them two-a-days. You may have them do walk-through, and not as much running and contact drills. You may limit their minutes.
"You'll have trainers that will be assessing if they're sore, if strength is in their joints or whatever else. But there's nothing all that scientific that proves 28 minutes is better than 32 minutes. It's more of a feel thing."
2. Training aid technology has advanced. "We have softer-cushion orthotics to reduce ankle sprains and stress fractures. With knee braces and sleeves, they're used to help ligament laxity, unload pain and prevent hyperextension. Most of the braces are pretty lightweight, about 16, 17 ounces. They're strong enough to withstand stress, so the quality has improved a lot. You don't really use the bulky knee pads anymore because things are a lot lighter now to handle impact."
3. There's better cushioning under the courts. "They provide more absorption for the players. We see the difference when we play an exhibition game on another court. They're much harder and the players will complain. It used to be much worse, but the NBA is finding better courts. They even have courts they will bring sometimes to places if they don't like the courts there."
4. Orthokine therapy seems to work for pain and arthritis. "They'll use the patient's blood, incubate it and put different types of regenerative hormones into the blood for the knee. While it's not FDA-approved and there's really not a whole lot of scientific studies that show it works, I believe it helps some people.
"Out of the tremendous number of older athletes in the NBA and NFL who have done it, some have been able to play longer. I've actually spoken with Dr. Peter Wehling, who developed the treatment, and he said it helps about 60 percent of people. It's quite expensive; somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000."
5. The older players have worked hard themselves. "Most of the older guys -- the Ray Allens and Jason Kidds -- take incredible care of themselves. They have very strict diets and they have a very set conditioning program they do every day. It's not by accident that some of these guys can play that long. It started when they were young, but not everyone buys into it. When you're young, you think that you're never going to have a problem."
6. Not breaking habits is key. "Sleeping in your own bed and having your own routine makes a big difference. It goes back to home-court advantage. The fans contribute, but some of it is you're eating your regular foods, sleeping at your regular time in your own bed, taking a nap at your regular time. Most guys will take a nap on game day and are more comfortable."