October 15, 2008

Post-Dispatch appearance

Tony Breitbach was featured in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch and its website STLtoday.com.

Got hurt? Teaching athletes when to get out of the game

Wednesday, Oct. 15 2008
The "no pain, no gain" mindset for the athletes who make it into the big show isn't a healthy mantra for prep athletes or weekend warriors. Olympians and professional athletes take a calculated risk, pushing themselves to the limit — and beyond — for the glory and the gold.

"The biggest mistake people make is (to compare) what they do to an Olympic athlete or a professional football player," says Tony Breitbach, director of athletic training at St. Louis University. "For an NFL player, the difference in playing hurt could be an extra million dollars, so that's a risk he takes."

Athletes — from young people who fantasize about themselves as their favorite athletes, to older people trying to recapture their high school or college glory days — often overdo it, Breitbach says.

When professionals get hurt, they have coaches, (athletic) trainers, doctors, physical therapists and their own knowledge of their bodies' strengths and weaknesses to help them determine whether they can play hurt or it's time to go on the disabled list. Athletes struggle through an injury knowing they're going to have months to recuperate, Breitbach said. They tend to know what their bodies can and can't do and how to compensate for injuries. Professionals can turn up their focus to compensate for an injury, something that separates them from weekend warriors.

Breitbach says he's glad to see that more schools have athletic trainers on the sidelines, watching for signs of injury. "We look at the athletic trainer as the athlete's advocate, someone trained to know (the extent) of an injury," Breitbach said. "Only a person with a medical background should say whether a child can play after an injury."
Even on high school sidelines, playing hurt can be a calculated risk. If an injury happens early in the season, sitting out a game or two may prevent problems later in the season. However, an athlete may play on a lesser injury in a championship game because he has months to recuperate. Still, says Breitbach, younger players need to gain a more realistic attitude about injuries, he said. As the fortunes of Olympians in all sports clearly showed in Beijing, "setbacks happen — at all stages of life," Breitbach said.


For older players who think they can play a pickup game with a bunch of 20-somethings, "The key is how much money could you stand to lose," Breitbach said. "If you work in an office and you (break an ankle), that's not going to be a big problem. But if you work construction and you break an ankle, you can't work."

harry.jackson@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8345

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