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Pro teams consulting with sports medicine physicians before signing athletes

Kyrie Irving drives the basket. Flickr/Erik Drost

Kyrie Irving drives the basket. Irving has been injured every year he’s been on the court. Flickr/Erik Drost

Professional sports are a million dollar industry and teams need to take a hard and fast look at the health and long-term viability of their players. I spent some time today in studio talking to Ray Horner about this and other topics that are trending in sports news.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.

0:00

HORNER: Dr. Joe Congeni is in studio (from the) Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, is with us on 1590 WAKR. Joe, once a month, comes on into the studio (he visits us on a weekly basis on air).

I guess (Joe) let’s jump right in. You wanted to talk a little bit about Kyrie Irving’s injury.

DR. CONGENI: Yeah. I have a little concern.

He’s had some shoulder injuries before. I saw the injury take place. As we’re to the later part of the season, they’re saying 2 weeks (to recover) which I think is pretty hopeful right now.

I’m glad that there’s no structural damage. When they say biceps it could be the bicep has a connection to the labrum, which is one of the support structures of the shoulder.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

I’m just a little bit concerned it may take Kyrie a little bit longer to settle this injury.

HORNER: He has had injury problems throughout his life and shoulder injuries as well.

DR. CONGENI: He has. It’s a rugged place, the NBA. You know some of those slider point guards, their first few years in the league–Iverson got beat up a little, Chris Paul got beat up a little bit.

I think it goes with the territory, but we’re so desperate in Cleveland sports looking for this new person to lead the team. This is not the way to finish the season.

HORNER: Boy, that also has to go into the Cavaliers mindset of thinking when you look at the second contract for Kyrie Irving.

He has been injured every year he’s been on the court. Then you can go back to Duke as well.

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, but you can’t get your hands on a talent like that.

They’re going to have to try and build around him. The big thing this summer is going to be if he signs that extension (contract) that no one has passed on before. We’ll see.

HORNER: That brings to mind doctors and sports — they kind of go hand-in-hand (now). You have to have the good clinical coverage. You have to do your investigative work when you’re talking about contracts with these athletes, whether it’s the NBA or the NFL.

Let’s slide into that part with the Cleveland Browns.

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, the sports medicine team is a very important team in decision-making for sports overall at the high school level, college level, and particularly at the pro level. Salary caps and the use of money and who you’re going to sign and all those kinds of things are so critical.

Flickr/U.S. Coast Guard

Flickr/U.S. Coast Guard

An odd story that’s been kicking around for the last 2 or 3 days is about the Browns — they don’t have a lead team physician yet. They’ve been really taking a lot of heat from a lot of the other teams in the NFL and particularly some of the sports medicine teams.

The story at the end of the year this year, late December/early January, is the Browns are switching (sports medicine) coverage — the first time since 1978.

They were the first team to have an association with a hospital (the Cleveland Clinic). Everyone knew the well-known Dr. John Bergfeld and others for years.

They switched over to University Hospitals and it’s a complex deal with some marketing issue involved with it. But the point is, that’s a big change. They’ve had all their team docs for a long time and they went into it at a part of the year where this assessment process is critical.

You’re looking at the combine a few weeks ago and trying to make decisions about who you might draft.

Now you’re looking at spending a lot of money in free agency.

The fact is the athletic trainers can do a lot of this. The athletic trainer does have continuity and their training staff is the same so they do some of that.

I have a lot of friends at the combine and there’s not a lot of sharing of information. These different medical teams want their own MRIs and their own assessments to make decisions.

Almost everybody has injury baggage by that point, but you make decisions about (what’s) the long-term prognosis of this guy and whether to sign him 3 years, or give him 4 years or 2 years. That’s what we hear every day, right?

Part of that decision making is the docs. The Browns did have doctors there, but they didn’t have a lead team physician. They took a lot of heat nationally if you look at that story in sports medicine.

HORNER: Well yeah, there’s so many dollars tied up in free agency.

As a matter of fact, in the last 10 days I believe there were 3 contracts that were revoked after the guys initially signed the contract and then went to the lead doctor for the physical and failed.

DR. CONGENI: You’re absolutely right. There were physicals done and everyone on the Browns side talked — they had sports medicine people on board — but not a lead team doc and that was a part of it too.

(There’s) one other story I wanted to get to a little bit, as you get to the brackets and the beginning of March Madness.

I know you’re a baseball guy (Ray), but everyone loves March Madness this time of year.

The Kansas story is kind of interesting. Joel Embiid (many people are saying) is the only potential franchise player (of this crop coming into the NBA draft.) I’ve only seen him play a few times, but this big man for Kansas (they are saying) is right on track with Hakeem Olajuwon with the way his career is developing.

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid has been sidelined since March 1 with a stress fracture in his lower back.

But he’s out now. So as you’re filling out your brackets, (keep in mind) he’s got a stress fracture in the low back. It took a long time to diagnose. He went to 2 or 3 doc groups.

This is something that occurs in my office all the time because I see younger athletes.

It’s really a sign — not knowing Joel Embiid — that he is probably a late bloomer. He (probably) still has a lot of maturation in his body to mature and grow so that’s actually even more intriguing.

It is good news and bad news.

The good news is that this injury should have no effect on his future career prognosis wise.

The bad news is for the people who want to pick Kansas for Bill Self and the people – this injury doesn’t just settle down in a week or two.

Could he be ready for week 2? Could Kansas get through week 1?

This injury takes usually a couple of months before people feel good playing with a stress fracture again. So Joel Embiid, this great big man for Kansas — with a stress fracture in his low back.

HORNER: Well you know it’s interesting — you talk about late bloomers as far as growth. You’ve educated me through the years that when the teenagers are really starting to hit that growth spurt, often because of the plates in the body and the bones, you’re going to get some problems developing right?

DR. CONGENI: There is no question about it. That’s what makes younger athletes different.

There’s a host of these and as you push that envelope — these kids loves sports and want to play a lot – but when you play a lot you have the real chance of breaking down.

These growth plates, these growth areas have certain injury patterns that occur for kids during their growth period. Maybe in the old days it started with growing pains and later on becomes stress fractures.

If we can just navigate this and get them through their growth years, they go on to be very healthy and that’s the good news in the long run.

The problem is some of these kids break down and never do navigate this properly and never go back to playing again like (they did).

Some of the pitchers with the little league elbow injury (will) never throw with the same velocity again and that’s a shame.

HORNER: One thing I wanted to bring up with you, Joe, and you haven’t been in the studio since they did it. The Cavaliers about a week and a half ago retired the number of Zydrunas Ilgauskas — No. 11.

You go back to the beginning of his career with those foot injuries. He couldn’t stay on the court.

As a sports medicine doctor did you ever think that he would go on to have such productive years and lead the Cavaliers franchise in so many categories and stay relatively healthy for the last 8 years of his career?

DR. CONGENI: You know what? Z is a story of sports medicine fitting together with an athlete.

He had tremendous resolve (everyone has said that recently) because there were many times people were writing him off — even himself. You get that self-doubt.

Nothing like when you’re kind of with a team, but not with a team. You look at the guy sitting at the end of the bench right now who’s been out for a year with a torn ACL or a foot fracture.

He (Z) had 2 or 3 of those in his career where he just sat there and wasn’t able to play for over a year.

It took great resolve for him to stick with it – to get to that point. It also took some appropriate decisions sports medicine wise. They reconstructed his foot finally. He did pretty well with the surgery.

Z’s is truly a story of sports medicine working together with an athlete who had a lot of resolve and hard work and perseverance. So it is a good story in the end with Z.

HORNER: Sometimes you hear the bad medical stories instead of the good ones. As you mentioned that is a good one the way it came together for Zydrunas.

Well listen Joe, thanks for coming in – always appreciate you taking the time.

DR. CONGENI: Thanks Ray. One other really great story, I got to be there Saturday to see the girls’ basketball.

We in sports medicine have covered and worked with the girls for 20 years. There were a lot of years we only had 5 wins.

Akron U’s girls’ basketball team (for years) was the bottom of the barrel in the MAC so to see those girls down at the Q getting a chance to hold up the trophy, getting to go to the NCAA tournament and go to the dance, it was awesome.

HORNER: Jody was on the air with us yesterday and she said quite frankly it was the greatest night of her life.

DR. CONGENI: Wow, that’s fantastic.

HORNER: Thanks Joe.

Dr. Congeni: Thanks. Have a great week.

Horner: Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, joining us on WAKR 1590.

Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on March 19, 2014.

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About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.

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