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Optimum Performance: Sudden impact – the cause of pain in the NFL

Philadelphia Eagles’ Henry Josey rushes during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez) ORG XMIT: _3MS5698 (Michael Perez)

The Merriam -Webster Dictionary defines physical pain as, “localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (as a disease or an injury).” I define it as an end product of practicing and playing competitive sports, or for that matter – overuse of one’s body, as a result of extended, repetitive physical activity.

The Bleacher Report commented that, “Every player in the NFL has his own form of pain management to mask injuries for three hours of football on a Sunday afternoon with injections, pills, whatever.”

Story by

Mackie Shilstone,

Contributing writer

A 2012 Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel story – NFL Players Weigh Pain, Risks of Treatment, and Future Health – said, “From Tylenol, ibuprofen and prescription drugs, to hot and cold tubs, massages and other non-medicinal therapies, NFL players have a lot of choices to lessen their pain. What’s healthy and safe for the long term – well, that’s a different matter entirely.”

The cause of a player’s pain and its associated treatment modalities is physical contact – a virtual train wreck with each play of an NFL game. Yet, according to the Wall Street Journal, in a typical 3-hour-12-minute game, the ball is only in play for 11 minutes.

Each play averages just 4 seconds. Compare that to a two-set (1.5 hours) pro tennis match where the ball is in play for 15 minutes, and an average point can take between 4 &12 seconds.

The Saints averaged 67.6 plays per game in 2013 – with a 67.4 play average at home and 67.8 plays per game on the road.

Why then all this pain in the NFL? Keep in mind that a large group of retired players have settled a concussion lawsuit against the NFL, while another group of retired players is currently suing the NFL over the alleged mishandling of pain medication with some players.

The answer is power – work capacity per unit of time. From a fitness standpoint, power equals mass times distance divided by time. In the NFL, it might be defined as how quickly a player can deliver his strength into another player’s body when called upon.

Either driven into the ground by an opposing player, or accelerating into another player faster than a speeding bullet, the cumulative, long- term damage to a player’s body can be extensive – which is why smart players carry personal disability policies.

According to Dr. John Hunt, Chief, Division of Trauma & Critical Care Surgery, LSU Health Sciences Center, the effects of hard, repetitive tackles follow a predictable pattern: “Musculoskeletal tissue, including muscle, ligaments, and tendons, that undergo repeated strenuous motion or repeated physical trauma undergo a pattern of injury, inflammation, and rebuilding by the body.  This “scar” tissue tends to be weaker and less elastic.  This leads to an increased risk of serious injury and stiffness in the affected tissue.”

Over my years of work with NFL players, I have helped several of these injured players reap the benefits of their disability policies, which is no easy task in terms of their payouts.

As to how much trauma the human body can tolerate, Hunts says, “Different tissues have different resistance to injury.  Bone is clearly the most difficult to break or damage. This is followed by ligaments and tendons and then cartilage.”

A major consideration is what happens to that NFL player, who is exposed to continued “trauma,” when he turns 50. “The area that was subject to the injury (trauma)”, notes Hunt, “would be weaker and stiffer than usual. As the players lose conditioning when not involved in the game anymore is when this appears to accelerate.”

And, the roar of the crowd, who previously cheered that player, now turns to silence in retirement. Yet, the pain and suffering can still live on.

The price of fame and glory just got a little higher.

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, has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He is St. Charles Parish Hospital’s Fitness and Wellness expert. Contact him at