I live in Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh anything having to do with football is big news. A few weeks back Rashard Mendenhall made the news when the former Steeler running back announced his retirement at the age of 26, while still seemingly healthy.
People here were questioning why a healthy athlete in the prime of his career would want to retire?
Through many years of working on professional athletes, I know what they put their bodies through. I therefore applaud Reshard Mendenhall’s decision to stop playing football while he is still able to walk and is relatively healthy. This decision will prevent more injury and damage to his body. This decision will ideally give him more years before the damage already done to his body has a chance to really affect him.
In order to reach professional status, an athlete has to have been practicing and playing their sport for many years prior to turning pro, in order to acquire the skills needed at the professional level. Even though Reshard Mendenhall might have only played 6 seasons in the NFL, he said that he played a total of 17 seasons of football, dating back to 1997 in pee-wee football. That is a lot of pounding, injury, and damage that has accumulated in his body over the years.
Injuries are cumulative. Injuries from football and other high impact sports will build up over time, and will affect you more as you age. A common example I see of this is the old high school football player.
A guy who played high school football who is now in his 50’s will commonly present to my office with some type of pain. Let’s use the example of shoulder pain. They guy will say that the first time he had this pain was when he was in high school playing football and some other guy speared him in his shoulder with his helmet. This guy has had the same type of shoulder pain on and off ever since then.
The body remembers injuries. The injuries get wired into your system which makes it much easier for them to flair again later on in life. Years of abuse and wear and tear on your body makes old injuries much more likely to flair. Those areas of previous injury are structurally less stable than other, non-injured areas. These are the first areas that will flare during times of stress and irritation.
Ballet dancers beat themselves up just as much as professional football players beat each other up. By the end of a professional ballerina’s dance career, they can have as much as 30 years of dancing under their belts. That is a lot of wear and tear on their joints and body. That is a lot of injury that will accumulate over time. It is common for ballerinas to need hip replacements as young as age 40 from all of the accumulated damage and trauma from years of dancing.
I see similar effects from any type of high impact exercise, and in those who only played high impact sports through high school. This includes football, hockey, wrestling, lacrosse, cheerleading, gymnastics, and any type of dance. Anyone who has a history of competing in any of these sports will have a higher incidence of osteo-arthritis as they age.
Injuries are cumulative. When we are young we won’t feel the injuries, at least not until we reach middle age. Then we can feel our old injuries on and off for the rest of our lives. If we don’t take care of ourselves, or still play high impact sports or do high impact exercise, then these old injuries will get worse as we age. These injuries will build up and get worse over time until they become debilitating enough to prevent you from exercising or from doing any of the other activities that you love. These old areas of injury don’t go away. They eventually become osteo-arthritis. Any area of previous injury is susceptible to forming osteo-arthritis.
If we take care of ourselves, and exercise intelligently, and do low impact exercise and play low impact sports, then we will age gracefully and will maintain full use of our joints and bodies as we age. We will have less incidence of arthritis, and the arthritis that we have will affect us less.
That is why I applaud Rashard Mendenhall for retiring early. He has made lots of money, and doesn’t want to injure himself anymore. From working on professional football players, I have grown to appreciate that they earn their high salaries.
Most of them won’t be able to do anything else after they retire. Their bodies are shot when they retire. They are lucky to be able to run around after their kids when they retire. Information is coming out about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. This means that a player can get dementia long after their playing days from all of the head injuries they sustained while playing.
I had the honor to work on former football great L.C. Greenwood for years leading up to his death. I was able to observe first hand, the culmination of a life time of playing football on a man’s body. By the end L.C. was riddled with osteo-arthritis and in horrible pain. When someone is in this much pain they will listen to anyone to get out of the pain.
Unfortunately there are a lot of charlatans out there telling people who have money and are in pain that they can get them out of pain. They do “experimental” procedures that are very expensive and rarely produce relief. After no relief from one surgery they will commonly say that they didn’t get everything out and that they need to go back in and take more out. This becomes a cycle that can go on and on. It is common for people in pain and who have money and access to all of the top doctors to go through 10 to 20 surgeries and still be in pain.
After that much surgery their backs are shot and usually much worse off. They can be less structurally stable from all of the surgeries, incision sites and build up of scar tissue.
That is why everything that you read about pain and arthritis says that it is easier to prevent pain and arthritis than it is to get rid of it. The analogy is that it is easier to prevent a fire then it is to put one out.
Once you have osteo-arthritis you can’t get rid of it. You can prevent it from forming in your body. You can slow down the progression of it once you have.
Through a proper, low impact exercise program and an anti-inflammatory diet (like what comprises the Pain Free Lifestyle program), you can slow down the progression of the arthritis and pain, and prevent the arthritis and pain from building up and eventually manifesting in needing a joint replacement.
Be kind to your body. Exercise and eat sustainably. Make healthy changes to your lifestyle that you can maintain and stick with. Exercise and eat right to reduce pain and feel better. It is the Pain Free Way.
Here are a few other articles that I wrote on the topic of low impact exercise: