In the late 1990s, I was in college and interning with the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. During one game against the Texas rangers, Tony Saunders was pitching and I was in the dugout looking down at my bag of sunflower seeds and heard a snap, similar to a bat making contact. It was Tony’s arm breaking and he was rolling around in pain. The echo of the snap still haunts me as the dome was empty that day due to low attendance and the injury was thought as a freak one. Freak is a term that should be replaced with rare, as freak sounds like random black magic versus small percentages or perfect storm (multiple factors). A little over a year later Tony broke his arm again and his career was done.
The lesson learned is that less common gruesome injuries are not happening from voodoo dolls or witchcraft. While some will say it’s a million to one, why not 800,000 or 5 million? With the Kevin Ware injury, the question was could something have been done? Some injuries will be happenstance, such as the athlete getting tackled from a brother at home, but our job is to remove the probable and likely. We can focus on diving catches with one hand, or do quick slants. Saying nutrition doesn’t matter in bone health is frankly irresponsible. While I see that some high school programs will have kids that don’t get blood analysis or orthopedic screening, I have coached at the HS level and athletes got it triggered by the right words with their health care provider. If I was a ACC or SEC program for basketball, I would rethink vibration platforms and other tools and invest into blood testing with the school health services. Teams are doing this now in college and it’s working, period.
Biochemistry of eating right has a role and impact, but the other factor is biomechanics. Research has shown that gait reeducation does work with reducing stress fractures, along with calcium and vitamin D supplementation, but the injury is not a stress fracture (chronic overload) and more acute. Simply put the body couldn’t stand the landing with that foot strike, and was the material and preparation enough? Hard to say and blame is not something I am doing to the staff, as the purpose of this blog is to prevent (as best we can) problems like this from happening. Every injury has an etiology, some more complicated and more rare, but everything happens for a reason. The more rare injuries are likely less preventable because the mechanisms and causes are difficult to prepare against and are sometimes genetic, but we have the responsibility of asking why and doing our best to help everyone the best we can.