A UGA student attending a forum about the health and safety of college athletes Tuesday at the Georgia Center was first to ask Ron Courson the question Georgia fans are probably most interested in hearing an answer to regarding football injuries.
Is Georgia doing something in training that has caused the Bulldogs to suffer an unusual amount of knee injuries lately or have they just been unlucky?
Courson, addressing the question then and also afterward with reporters, stopped short of saying that it has. But he acknowledged that Georgia has re-evaluated all its training techniques and has introduced some new ones in hopes of preventing ACL and other injuries in the future.
“A lot of it goes back to the science of strength and conditioning,” Courson told the student. “Traditionally a lot of things have been done in strength and conditioning just because that’s the way it’s always been done. We did heavy squats because they’ve always been done that way, and we ran and did a lot of other things because it has always been done that way. I think we’ve got to advance with sports science.”
Georgia appears to be addressing that. The Bulldogs in December hired Mark Hocke from Alabama to take over their football strength and conditioning program. And one of the techniques that they’re implementing is something called proprioception. In general, proprioception is the awareness of the position of one’s body and, in sports training, it incorporates a lot of balancing techniques into training exercises.
“That’s one thing we found out (helps), learning how to land coming off a jump,” Courson said after the 90-minute program. “Because most ACLs are non-contact. The contact things we can’t do a lot to prevent. But the non-contact things we can. There’s a lot of things we can do from a strength and condition standpoint. We tried to sit down with Coach Hocke and our strength staff and tried to look at what areas we wanted to focus on. For example, we may want to put more emphasis on hamstring, we want to put more emphasis on shoulder and rotator cuff or balance and proprioception. If we can identify trends and factors, it helps us to be better at trying to prevent.”
Discussion of Georgia’s knee-injury issues the last two season was not the focus of Tuesday’s seminar. Courson, UGA’s longtime director of sports medicine, was one of five panelists in a program featuring NCAA’s chief medical officer in Brian Hainline called, “Sound Minds, Sound Bodies and College Sports: A conversation with Dr. Brian Hainline.”
The other panelists included current UGA student-athletes Malcolm Mitchell (football) and Brittany MacLean (swimming) and former offensive lineman Jon Stinchcomb, who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints. Welch Suggs, associate professor of journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, moderated.
Hainline opened with a rousing 15-minute message about the importance of sound physical and mental training. A neurologist by trade, Hainline spoke about the tremendous strides the NCAA has made in concussion research and treatment, including partnering with the Department of Defense on funded studies.
But he did not point to that as the primary medical issue facing college athletes today.
“I actually think mental health issues and the recognance of over-use injuries is more important. But concussions are the elephant in the room, and honestly that opened the door for us to take a step back and say, ‘what are we going in the sport model?”
Hainline said the “over-specialization” of athletes at a young age has caused them to “over-development,” which can result in injuries, burnout and mental and physical breakdowns.
Mitchell was particularly outspoken. The star wideout, who will be a senior this fall, has suffered two knee injuries in the two years and has had to overcome chronic hamstring issues early in his career.
He, for one, doesn’t believe anything UGA does from a training standpoint has contributed to knee problems. And he said he has done extensive research.
“How do you strengthen a ligament?” he asked. “An ACL isn’t a muscle. I can’t make it stronger. I can make the areas around it stronger and hopefully that prevents the injury. But you still have a chance of that happening. You just look at how Keith (Marshall) got hurt. Was that preventable on his behalf? The way I got hurt, the only thing that was preventable was if I wouldn’t have run down there (to celebrate with Todd Gurley). For Todd, how preventable was that”
“So I’m not sure ACL has one distinct motion or one thing that hurts you. It’s so varied in the way it can happen, you never know. So I don’t think as of right now. There’s nothing that proves that. The only thing that’s been proven is yoou can recover from it.”
And Courson’s thoughts?
“What you’re going to find with injuries is they tend to be cyclical,” he said. “For one year you may have an inordinate amount of ACLs. The next year it might be concussions, the next year it might be labrum injuries. What you do is you take a critical look at what happened and how we can classify it. We try to do that at the end of every year.”
That said, Courson concluded, “We have had a couple of years with an inordinate amount of ACLs. But when you take a look at the big picture over the last 10 years, we haven’t had any more than any other school. We’ve just had a run the last couple of years.”
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