Nine years ago around this time, the NFL lockout ended and players reported to camp in July 2011. That had followed a four-month layoff during which players didn’t have access to team facilities and weren’t able to participate in offseason workouts. In the first 12 days of preseason practices that year, 10 Achilles tendon injuries occurred. That number was more than double the amount of such injuries the NFL had averaged for an entire season, according to a study by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
“So there was a large increase in Achilles tendon ruptures when they started back up,” Justin Geissinger said.
Geissinger is a Conestoga Valley graduate with a doctorate degree in physical therapy from Neumann University who now works at Prana Physical Therapy in Lancaster city.
He is concerned about a similar injury pattern happening as schools across the county welcome student-athletes back for voluntary offseason workouts in the coming days and weeks.
Lancaster Catholic and Manheim Township were the first schools in the county do so last week, roughly four months since schools closed becaue of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Geissinger, who works with about 20 high school student-athletes a week, said he feels the shutdown has led to students having a more sedentary lifestyle.
“You used to wake up, walk to the car or bus, walk from class to class,” Geissinger said. “Now, all of a sudden your world shrank. Maybe you go to the kitchen and then to the computer. ... I’ve been having kids come into me and pull out their phone and look to see what their step count is. It surprises them to see how low it is. They’re not moving.”
Local high school coaches have tried to find a workaround to this challenge in sending their student-athletes at-home workouts amidst the shutdown.
“Some kids had at-home gym setups,” Manheim Township football coach Mark Evans said. “But if others didn’t have equipment, we’d have workouts geared toward body weight movements. They had something to go off of.”
Still, a student-athlete might not be putting in the same workout he or she would if a coach was around to hold them accountable.
So as student-athletes return to athletic facilities, some coaches are taking the approach of building each from the ground up.
“I’m just taking the perspective of we’re going to start over,” Penn Manor strength and conditioning coach Tim Hite said. “I know there will be kids who have done the work and those who haven’t.”
What does that look like?
“Dynamic movement to get their hamstring flexibility back,” Hite said. “Teaching kids how to run correctly. If we can get them to run and jump correctly, we can then get them to lift weights correctly.”
“When they come back, we’ll start at less weight, higher reps (in the weight room),” new Cocalico football coach Bryan Strohl said. “We’re not going to test them right away. That’s not what is best for the kids. We don’t want injuries. We’ll work into it slowly.”
Ultimately, it comes down to building a base and working up from there. And for the student-athletes of fall sports, to get them close to being in shape enough for the start of preseason practices in mid- to late-August, and continuing to build up strength as the season progresses.
“We have the ability to do amazing things when we practice them,” Geissinger said. “But they take time. So for high school athletes, what’s your long-term goal? Let’s focus on that. Walk 10,000 steps this week so you can be the state champ in whatever it is months from now.”