The NFL's Injury Issue: One-on-One With New York Sports Doctor Kevin Plancher

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24:  Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings grabs the back of his right leg as he sits on the turf after getting knocked down on a play against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I was recently given the ultimate honor to interview one of the most highly respected and recognized sports doctors in the United States last night, as I found myself discussing the NFL's injury concerns with one of New York's most respected sports personalities and orthopedic surgeons, Dr. Kevin Plancher.

It was more than fitting that this interview had been arranged following two weeks of devastating injuries that rocked the league from every angle.  If it hasn't been Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant going down with a season ending knee injury, it has been the NFL's golden boy Darrelle Revis, injuring his hamstring in a recent New York Jets practice.

For the most part, these injuries are nothing new.  We all know that the league has had a constant problem with player welfare, and although Roger Goodell takes physical fitness extremely seriously, today's modern game simply places added pressure on every player who is willing to compete.

So what did expert Dr. Kevin Plancher have to say about the league's state right now?

Well aside from funny references toward Brett Favre's age, he too agreed with the fan perspective, that the NFL's injury woes are becoming more frequent as time draws on.  However, with that in mind he did state that the recent steps in science and technology, are benefiting players in every way possible.

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"Does the use of Astro Turf increase the likelihood of injuries these days?"

As great as Astro Turf looks and feels, there's no doubt that the hard surface and lack of depth has caused the injury rates to increase a little not only in the NFL, but in sports on a worldwide platform.

According to Dr. Plancher, science has shown that Astro Turf is indeed a major cause of injuries, but what it hasn't shown is that it is reasonable excuse to ban the use of Astro Turf, as big time injuries can easily occur on well looked after grass as well.

The biggest issue with Astro Turf is simple, turf toe.  Anyone that has played even the slightest bit of football in their life would be familiar with this injury, and it has been one that has been plaguing players since the very early Bart Starr days of football.

So what is turf toe exactly?

For those that don't know, turf toe occurs when tendons in the foot flare up, causing a great deal of swelling and redness in the foot or toe.

But aside from this rather minor injury, the use of Astro Turf is more importantly contributing to the appearance of ACL injuries, particularly toward the midway point in the season. 

Luckily for the NFL, the league hasn't seen a great deal of ACL injuries in the past two weeks, yet the rate of hamstring strains has been high, and this is a factor to keep an eye on.

Whatever your opinion of Astro Turf may be, it know doubt adds another dimension to the injury factor in the league.  Still, until we see all 32 teams convert to the substance, it isn't a huge worry just yet.

"How does a minor injury affect a player as time goes on?"

Even though we don't hear about every single injury that a player may experience in a game, there's no doubt that minor wear and tare begins to take a toll on a player as time goes on.

As much as I don't like to use Brett Favre as an example all the time, once again his ankle sprain that occurred during the NFC Championship Game last season was a talking point during the preseason period, and it appears that this injury could still be haunting him a little.

Fortunately when it comes to ankle sprains, Dr. Plancher states that there are two very different issues to worry about. 

Firstly, when a player goes down with a low ankle sprain, it should be taken very lightly even if it looks painful, as this is a common injury, especially for the likes of quarterbacks and running backs, don't panic if your favorite guy hits the turf in a little ankle pain, it may not mean much.

However, when it comes to high ankle sprains, this is an injury that can prove to be more or less life altering, considering that it can lead to further injuries down the track.

And what is the treatment for a sprain such as this?

Normally the minimum is three weeks, yet the torn structure can never fully heal, even more so if the injury reoccurs.

More importantly though, such as in Michael Turner's case, money can often make it difficult for a player, considering that contract obligations are at play, and the urge to return to the playing field can lead to improper decision making upon a return.

Finally Dr. Plancher emphasized the age factor.  We've seen it happen to many guys over the years, and even "Broadway" Joe Namath has suffered, considering that he now has two artificial knees in his later life.

Minor injuries can be meaningless, yet they can also be very devastating.  Just ask Tiki Barber; that's one of the main reasons he retired from the game.

"Are players over-training in today's modern era?"

After watching a College Football game recently between Penn State and Alabama and marveling at the brilliance of running back Trent Richardson, I instantly became aware of how buff this guy was, after it was reported he spends every free minute of his time in the weight room.

Therefore, the issue over training was one that I had to ask Dr. Plancher, especially since so many players seem to pick up injuries in training camps and team oriented activities.

First and foremost, Dr. Plancher highlighted the very alarming fact that players often spend only three weeks away from football and training.  Not only is this a fact that many fans would be unaware of, it also demonstrates how demanding today's league really is.

Secondly, Dr. Plancher also willingly used the example of Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who failed to inform the team about his hip injury prior to his signing.

This type of injury is the epitome of over-training.  Another example would include Santana Moss, and along with much bigger players such as Albert Haynesworth who was deemed unfit by head coach Mike Shanahan, players simply aren't being given enough down time following the end of the regular season.

But perhaps the most important fact that was brought to my attention, was the issue of a possible 18 game regular season expansion.  Sure this is an event that all fans would love to see, but do we really want players to be even more limited to their offseason break?  I think not.

The issue of over-training is fairly straight forward.  Dr. Plancher stated that the season never ends for today's athletes, and even though the regular season campaign barely covers four months, over-training is affecting injuries.

Lastly, with NFL players picking games up overseas in the likes of Europe and China, these small tweaks of ankles and hamstrings are going to occur. 

Maybe we criticized Brett Favre's tendency to miss training camps a little too quickly; perhaps he's the only smart guy in the league.

"Are hyperbaric chambers and the use of ice baths a step in the right direction?"

The final question that was asked was directed toward today's modern sciences, particularly the use of hyperbaric chambers.

Now, while I'm no expert on this subject, it is something that seems to be popping up in the media a lot these days, and players are responding positively to the stress free way of rehabilitation.

As much as players still use the old fashioned Chinese remedy of acupuncture, hyperbaric chambers and plasma protein are the way of the future.

Like Dr. Plancher said. "These things should be tried, and let us try these new technologies".  Given all of the NFL's injury issues, this is one of the most positive things to come out of the situation.  It not only speeds the healing process up, it also benefits everybody in the league.

That's a Wrap

In all likelihood the NFL will always have an issue with injuries.  Concussions are a hot topic right now, and following Kevin Kolb's clash with Clay Matthews in Week 1, head injuries are becoming more and more noted as time goes on.

Small steps are being taken in the right direction, but like Dr. Plancher said, we must let the league try and fix these issues.

Keep in mind things have come a long way from Joe Theismann's compound fracture back in 1985, yet change must keep on occurring.  Hopefully with a little luck and a some elbow grease, the league can tidy up the concerns, but leave the game the same.

Ryan Cook is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also an NFL columnist for Real Sports Net and a Green Bay Packers writer for Fan Huddle and PackerChatters. Ryan is also a contributing writer for Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Generation Y Sports.  Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.


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