When scholarships dollars are at stake, students and parents seek solutions
by Debbie Roberts, L.M.T.
As a massage therapist and fitness trainer, I see a steady flow of kids suffering from repetitive motion injuries from throwing, swimming and swinging.
For most of these kids, their injuries aren’t enough to bench them, but, if unaddressed, they can reduce strength and speed in a pitch, lap or serve—and those losses can mean the difference between a college athletic scholarship and a scout’s snub.
High school athletics are highly competitive. Students aren’t just competing for titles or trophies; they’re competing for scholarship dollars and their futures. As a result, I’m seeing more and more young athletes who are really pushing themselves for their sport, and some whose bodies are paying the price.
By specializing in sports-injury rehabilitation, I’m able to help young athletes get out of pain and back in the game while achieving a high level of satisfaction in what I do, as well as keeping my practice full and profitable.
I met baseball prodigy Christian Wonders when he was only 11 years old, after his coach hired me to conduct a six-week functional training program for his team. It didn’t take me long to realize Wonders stood out from the rest of the team.
Wonders was one of the most dedicated athletes I’d ever worked with, even keeping pace with some of my pro-ball players. He was strong, committed and had a natural gift as a pitcher that, when combined with his training and focus, made him a top-notch ball player.
Even at an early age, Wonders’ knew what he wanted: a college baseball scholarship and a career in sports.
An unexpected curve ball
In 2009, as a junior in high school, Wonders suffered from a back injury that put his future at risk. In a routine workout at the gym, an improper squat resulted in a strained quadratus lumborum and erector spinae. He was in so much pain that he could barely pitch, and college scouts were already showing up at his games. An injury now could end his hopes for a scholarship.
“My back was killing me every time I pitched. It was so painful, but I pitched through it until the end of the season. Problem is, you just can’t play at your peak when you’re hurt like that and you never want to tell a college coach that you’re injured before you sign,” he told me.
As a post-rehabilitative specialist who has treated dozens of professional and amateur athletes over the years, I knew I could help Wonders get back in the game. So, I offered him and his family a scholarship for his rehabilitation and training.
A team approach
My motto is, “If you don’t assess, you simply guess.” So the first thing I did when Wonders’ parents brought him to see me was properly assess his injury.
The assessment indicated Wonders’ vertebrae was subluxated. During the assessment, I also discovered he was dealing with some unaddressed shoulder strain. There was no actual injury to the shoulder, but the repetitive motion of pitching had taken a toll.
To aid in my assessment, I referred Wonders to an osteopathic doctor. With the help of the osteopath, we learned which direction the subluxation occurred and with which vertebrae. This information was key in determining his treatment plan.
After assessing his injuries, I worked with Wonders through a combination of massage, myofascial release, hot-and-cold contrast therapy and muscle energy work. I also created a workout plan to strengthen his shoulder, add stability to his muscles and reduce his risk of future injury.
I ended each session with the missing finish piece: muscle activation. Muscle activation is the use of isometrics to help jump-start and give stability back to any muscle in question to restore function and stability. During the muscle activation piece, we also incorporated some spinal stabilization techniques.
Once I took care of all of Wonders’ soft-tissue issues, I sent him to a chiropractor for adjustments. Because of the work we did on the soft tissue, the chiropractor was able to adjust Wonders’ back with more ease and success, and in fewer treatments.
The final score
“The next season, I threw a shutout game,” Wonders said. “After throwing with the pain and then finally going back onto the field without pain, I felt so much better. Being pain-free boosted my confidence and I was on my game from then on.”
Today, Wonders is entering his freshman year of college at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida, on a baseball and academic scholarship with baseball Hall of Famer Gary Carter as his coach.
“I’m real excited to start college baseball and this new phase of my life,” Wonders said. “I would 100 percent recommend massage therapy to other athletes I work with. It’s made a big difference in my life and my game. Massage therapy and functional training actually strengthen you. It’s a long-term fix that can actually improve your game.”
Top 3 Ways to Increase Your High School and College Athletics Clientele
- Hone your skills as a therapist. When working on your CEUs, look for educational programs that can offer you assessment skills as well as updated treatment modalities.
- Get to know your neighbors. Visit local high school and college coaches in your area. Offer free tips or lectures to team members and their parents and give them your contact information. That way if an injury does occur, they know who to contact for help.
- Offer treatment scholarships. Word-of-mouth is a therapist’s best friend. If you help one kid with a sports-related injury, you can bet their parents will be passing your card around the bleachers in no time.
Debbie Roberts, L.M.T., is the innovator of the Assessment, Treatment & Muscle Activation (ATM) Technique™. An international author and speaker, she’s the founder of Debbie Roberts Seminars, a CEU program providing continuing education for massage therapists and personal trainers who want to reach their full potential in their chosen fields. Roberts is best known for her unparalleled understanding of the anatomy of an injury and her focus on assessment and treatment plans designed to facilitate a client’s form and function. For more information, visit www.DebbieRobertsSeminars.com.