This column is about my experience as an alternative health care provider within the modern medical system. Although I now live in Morro Bay, I still manage a health care clinic in the San Diego area, as I have done for the past 25 years and where I still work 10 days out of each month.
Technology, Injury, and the Student Athlete
by Brian Dorfman
In the past couple of years I've worked with a lot of student athletes. It's obvious to me that these young men and women are in a very different situation today then we were 10 or 20 years ago. The student athlete of 2011 is up against hurdles I myself never saw as a young athlete. Now the training for many high school athletes is comparable to those doing college level sports. There are often more coaches and more outside groups providing more input and more rigorous training. But even more relevant, across the spectrum of experience for young athletes, is the impact of the electronic age.
It's clear that there is a big change in the type and frequency of injuries for student athletes today. I believe this difference is the byproduct of just sitting a lot while spending so much time using computers and cell phones. It's not that athletes are sustaining more or worse injuries than non-athletes due to today's extreme reliance on electronics, but rather, that athletics tends to highlight low-grade imbalances.
For example, a 16-year-old starting pitcher came to Dorfman Kinesiology because he had pain and discomfort in his elbow and it hurt him to throw a ball. I quickly discovered that the root of the problem was tight biceps — caused by the rigid position of his arms while texting. Instead of keeping his elbows close to his body in an ergonomically correct position, he was raising his elbows up and away from his body. This common misalignment shortens the biceps and will cause problems for the musculature of the arm if it becomes habitual.
So although pitching didn't cause the problem, it brought it to light very quickly, because he had to straighten his arm and extend the muscle significantly. I was able to resolve the problem in one appointment by correcting his biomechanics, doing hands-on massage, and teaching him a few relevant stretches.
Here are some numbers I just pulled off the web, which are pretty astonishing. They really back what I've been seeing in my clinic with regard to postural and repetitive motion related pain and injuries. A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that, on average, teenage boys send and receive 30 texts a day while the average girl is up to 80 texts. More than 30% of the subjects reported sending and receiving more than 100 texts per day!
On top of all this texting, on average, teens spend 31 hours a week on the computer, sending emails, surfing the web, visiting Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, or playing games. Thirty-one hours of sitting—on top of the sitting they are doing each week during school. And, to finish it all off, kids aren't walking anymore. They are driving to and from school, to meet up with friends, and for sporting events. Even more sitting. While texting perhaps. Or playing video games on an iPhone or hand held device. Fortunately these young athletes respond quickly to the right treatment and it's amazing how a sprained ankle can become a perfect ankle again. It's really remarkable.
So if you or your child is a student athlete with an injury, make sure you find a practitioner who understands the impact of technology on the young athletes today. Technology is too big an aspect in young people's lives for practitioners to ignore.
Double-crested Cormorant on banner by Cleve Nash