Hamstrung: Packers search for injury answers
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--When the Packers lost Clay Matthews to another hamstring injury Sunday in Cincinnati, they lost their one of top playmakers on defense and, ultimately, their second close game in three weeks.
One could argue that the Packers’ most formidable foe this year has not been the 49ers, the Redskins or the Bengals. It’s been injuries, specifically nagging hamstring pulls. Eight Packers have been sidelined already this year, costing them collectively 41 practices (or preseason games) and seven regular-season games.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has managed injuries since the 2010 Super Bowl season with a “next man up” mantra, but even he seemed to be wondering Monday what everyone else in Packer Nation was.
Are these preventable or just a cruel twist of bad luck?
“You try not to overreact to the numbers and just stay true to the specifics,” he said. “Do I have an answer for you? No.”
Green Bay’s medical and training staffs evaluate each injury individually. The Packers do not allow them to talk to the media, but three players said they do what they can to prevent hamstring injuries with the help of the team.
One local trainer, Bradley Arnett, who works with NFL and college football players, said sprinting, jumping, acceleration and deceleration all increase the odds of hurting the hamstring, which explains why such injuries are so common in football.
“Hamstrings are a fast-twitch muscle, meaning they contract and relax rapidly depending on the demand,” said Arnett. “They rely on other muscles to help with movement.”
When other musculature is deficient, Arnett said, the hamstring does all the work.
“Most hamstring injuries happen in either initial take off or deceleration,” said Arnett.
Tight end Ryan Taylor has tried to avoid an injured hamstring by paying special attention to hamstring work in the offseason as well as now, plowing through Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) or doing exercises with a medicine ball.
“Shoulders and hamstrings are big issues in the NFL,” said Taylor. “It’s such a long season; you play four preseason games, you have a long training camp, you’ve got 16 regular-season games. Hamstrings are just something that become fatigued, so I try to do a lot of work personally on my hamstrings and on my shoulders. I call it prehab, preventative rehab.”
Elite athletes say that preventing injuries is all-encompassing, from nutrition to sleep to stretching. McCarthy said the Packers do an exceptional job of taking care of their bodies individually, making the hamstring injuries all the more mystifying.
“The best you can do is be in the best shape you can be in,” said fullback John Kuhn, who missed the Cincinnati game with a hamstring injury. “You constantly focus on the proper treatment, the proper preparation to get ready for games and make sure you’re hydrated.
“I think luck is really the No. 1 factor in this. Between youth, position, body type, time of running, you’re still going to see hamstring injuries. I don’t think you can pinpoint any particular thing.”
To Kuhn, that includes fatigue, a factor considered by some to be the top indicator for injury.
“I pulled my hamstring after I played 19 plays,” said Kuhn. “So I definitely don’t think it was fatigue.”
Running back James Starks has hurt his hamstring before. On Monday, he had just had his injured knee examined and was waiting for results. Hamstrings are such a pain for NFL players that when he was asked what is worse, a hamstring or knee injury, Starks said: “It depends on how severe it is, I think.
“All the guys work pretty hard to stay healthy. Injuries happen all the time in the NFL. It’s a tough league, strenuous on your body and we do all we can. We come in here every morning, work hard in the weight room to try to prevent those injuries. Sometimes you know it catches you off guard, you might react to certain plays in the game and strain things. All the guys are in shape. It’s just freak accidents.”
Taylor knocked on wood three times after being asked about hamstring injuries three times. No one wants them, they’re painful, they’re limiting and the rehabilitation time is unpredictable.
“A hamstring is a tricky thing because it’s not something you can run through,” Taylor said. “It’s something that you have to really work on—I have to knock on wood now—it’s something that you have to really stay on top of. It’s a freak thing that sometimes happens. Who knows?”
Matthews has fought hamstring injuries going back to his rookie season. He was hurt the first week of training camp in 2009 and missed all but the last week of camp. In 2010, he injured a hamstring in the scrimmage and missed the rest of training camp. He also missed a regular-season game that year. A hamstring cost him a exhibition game in 2011 and four regular-season games in 2012.
Matthews said after the game he would play Oct. 6 against Detroit, but McCarthy—knowing how these things can linger for weeks—said he was hopeful that Matthews’ hamstring injury this time was not severe.
“I go off of the medical report because sometimes your personal interaction with the player is different than their interaction with the doctors,” said McCarthy. “I’ll see where Clay is when we get back on Monday.”
As a certified trainer who has trained football players like J.J. Watt at his gym, NX Level in Waukesha, Arnett said that strengthening the hamstring to fight injury is too simplistic. He said that hamstring injuries in general—and nothing specific to Matthews or anyone else with whom Arnett has not worked—are a problem of hip alignment.
“Strengthening your hamstrings is important, but when your hips are not aligned you never really work them,” said Arnett. “Instead you work your lower back. So you may not exactly have weak hamstrings, they are just constantly fatigued from not getting help from other musculature.
“Prevention of hamstring issues starts with first and foremost hip mobility…. When the hips sit at an anterior tilt, sloping downwards, it pre-stretches the hamstring, leaving very little room for extension when sprinting. … So when your hips are sloped forward, thus pre-stretching the hamstring, you have limited room, and when you are basically over-stretched, the hamstring will pull to prevent a tear.”
Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.