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A few simple changes can help prevent unnecessary injuries | Optimum Performance

In the month of January, the Pelicans listed three players on the NBA injury list – Jason Smith (knee), who is out for the season, Ryan Anderson (neck, back), and Jrue Holiday (leg).

A recent analysis of the current NBA injury list finds there were 65 injury notations. If you consider that each NBA team can carry a maximum of fifteen players and minimum of twelve, there are anywhere from 360 to 450 players in the league at any given time.

Roughly 16 percent of NBA players are injured. Most of the injuries are to the lower extremity with six ankle injury notations, nineteen knees, and three hip injuries to name the most frequently injured body parts. Many of the upper extremity injuries are to the shoulder (5) and wrist (3), probably due to contact with the floor during a fall.

Handling the day-to-day damage control falls to each team’s head athletic trainer (A.T.C), physical therapist (PT), and the strength and conditioning specialist. The key to consistent injury management is to have an athletic training/rehab/and performance mindset that can work equally well away as it does at home.

On the road, the strength and conditioning coach will use either the hotel gym or a local fitness center to work with his players, while the A.T.C and the PT set up their treatment room usually adjacent to the A.T.C’s hotel room, when away from the opposing team’s arena.

Two years ago, I was called in by the Minnesota Timberwolves to address player in-season weight-loss and weight-gain issues. To assess the situation, I traveled with the Wolves on part of a southern road swing, while also traveling to their home base in Minneapolis.

Having worked on many NBA players and consulted for numerous teams on performance-enhancement issues, I knew where to start the evaluation process.

Significant weight loss, or for that matter weight gain, can pose an injury potential either due to the cumulative fatigue effect, as a result of weight loss, or in the case of weight gain, the increased stress to the joints from carrying excess weight up and down the court.

Using physiologic principles such as measuring a player’s Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) – which determines how 65% of a individual’s daily caloric expenditure is processed, a DXA Scan – a sophisticated very low radiation test, which is the gold standard for body composition assessment – and a MaxVo2 test, which measures the endurance and stamina level, I quickly determined part of the cause of the weight management issues in the respective players.

Using a computer pedometer, which the targeted players wore at practice, the pregame shoot-around, and during the game, I was also able to track the on-court player movement patterns.

It was fascinating to see the amount of running (73 miles) the player who was losing weight achieved in a 31-day period in both games and practices. When you add to the fact that he would sometimes skip breakfast and eat his pregame meal at a fast food restaurant, the recommendation was clear – change his level of practice participation to conserve energy and correct the dietary flaws.

Analyzing the team’s road hotel menus, my sports dietitian provided to the strength and conditioning coach exactly what combination of foods each player needed to select to either gain, lose, or maintain weight during the season. In addition, the menu on the team’s charter was revamped and advice was given on eating at home.

The player who had lost 10 pounds in the early part of the season put it back on, while the player, who needed to lose weight did so – both without negatively affecting their performance.

Injuries are certainly part of the game, but heading off the unnecessary ones is just good common sense. Let’s hope more teams heed the warning. — Mackie Shilstone

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. Contact him at

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