In today’s day and age everything has to do data, graphs, and statistics. Athlete’s have become accustomed to researching data and statistics for nearly everything. This revolution in baseball towards the “Money Ball Approach” has led athletes to believe statistics reign supreme and are infalliable.
BUT in the world of injury and rehabilitation, statistics must be looked at differently.
Return to play statistics for an injury can be dismal, and the simple belief in these statistics can potentially ruin any chance of ever returning to the field.
As an athlete you can benefit greatly from understanding your injury and it’s implications, but first you must understand that you are not a statistic. If only 5-7% of athletes return to pitch at the same level of play following a labral repair, why can’t you be in that small percentage of athletes who makes it back to the mound?
Maybe you can!
Reasons Why These Stats Shouldn’t Matter To You:
1. They aren’t you:
In all of the studies analyzing the return to play rates for various pathologies it is impossible for the researchers to account for the exact injury or surgical procedure that you as an individual endured. No two indivduals are the same anatomically, what maybe detrimental or catastrophic for one or many athletes may not be for you. Your vascularity maybe different, the articular orientation of your injured joint maybe different, the tensile strength of your connective tissues maybe different, etc. all of these variations alter how the damaged or repaired tissues heal.
2. The quitting conundrum:
I’m sure that as an athlete you have seen individuals who quit after an injury or surgery without even attempting to play again. Sometimes athletes discover the reality of how long the rehabilitation process can take or how much work is required to get back to the field and decide that they’re better off doing something else with their time. Either way the data from these individuals is rarely, if ever, excluded from these studies.
3. It’s tough and most people aren’t:
Significant injuries require significant amounts of calculated effort and hard work to recover from. It is not easy to get to peak performance as a healthy athlete, let alone with pain or dysfunction. The amount of work necessary to return from rotator cuff, labral, or ulnar collateral ligament injuries is likely triple the amount of work that the average dedicated athlete is accustomed to. If you want to play again you will have to work hard.
4. The problem in PT:
Poor therapy and rehabilitation quality is a largely overlooked factor with monstrous consequences. This is not only true of the therapy associated with the statistics but is also true of the therapy for overhead athletes in general. Most therapists and rehabilitation professionals have never played a sport at a highly competitive level and often they don’t understand what is required of a throwing athlete or how throwing stresses an athlete’s bones, joints, tendons, muscles, ligaments, etc. Having evaluated prescribed exercise protocols of hundreds of athletes who endured an unsuccessful initial bout of rehabilitation, it is very obvious in nearly all of these cases why their rehabilitation resulted in an unsuccessful outcome. It is impossible to count how many times I have seen throwing athletes come into the facility for the first time for a biomechanics session and evaluation after completing therapy and they aren’t even close to being ready to throw again. It is often disheartening for the athlete and parents to hear that additional therapy is required before initiating throwing, but it is necessary.
5. Your washing machine doesn’t clean your dishes but it might still be a good washing machine:
These studies weren’t designed to tell you your personal odds of returning to play. They were designed to help medical professionals choose the best form of treatment for patients and to evaluate the effectiveness of one treatment or procedure in comparison to another. The efficacy of various procedures and rehabilitation techniques must be evaluated and researchers are doing the best they can with the resources and subjects available. Just like you wouldn’t use your washing machine to clean the dishes because that’s not what it was designed for, you shouldn’t use return to play statistics to evaluate your odds of stepping back on the red clay.
No one can tell you whether or not you will be able to play again. Having been an injured athlete, I know the uncertainty that surrounds the situation but digging through articles and studies won’t eliminate that uneasy feeling. In a future blog we will be covering the steps you need to take to get back to field, but until then don’t limit your potential based on some statistics you read on the internet.