NFL Teams Use Exercises Developed by ChristianaCare to Protect Football Players from Injuries

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ChristianaCare physical therapists have developed a trailblazing treatment to prevent muscle strains that has caught the attention of numerous sports teams, including the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens.

ChristianaCare physical therapists Travis Ross and Brian Catania trained the Baltimore Ravens on ways to prevent injuries in the trunk muscles. (Shared with permission from the Baltimore Ravens.)

The treatment involves using a screening tool called the “core sling screen” to test the strength of trunk muscles, also known as core muscles, and is combined with a specialized exercise program to strengthen those muscles. Weakness in those muscles can lead to common athletic injuries such as strains in the abdomen, groin, quadriceps and lower back.

A study on the treatment’s success was published this spring in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. Following that, ChristianaCare physical therapists Brian Catania, MPT, SCS, ATC, and Travis Ross, DPT, PT, who co-authored the study and spearheaded the treatment, presented it to the NFL’s Professional Football Athletic Trainer Symposium.

Athletic trainers with the Los Angeles Rams and the Baltimore Ravens met directly with Catania and Ross to learn how to use it to prevent their players from sustaining muscle injuries.

The Los Angeles Rams are using exercises developed by ChristianaCare Rehabilitation Services to protect their players from injuries. (Shared with permission from the LA Rams.)

“The research by ChristianaCare Rehabilitation Services regarding core slings is an extremely effective approach that is based off of sound reasoning and practical application,” said Jon Hernandez, DPT, PT, SCS, ATC, CSCS, physical therapist and assistant athletic trainer for the Rams.

“The principles of the sling activation series are incorporated into our daily clinical practice. Whether it be our injury prevention programs, corrective exercises, or rehabilitation practices, the sling activation series is applicable to a myriad of conditions we see in an NFL athletic training room.”

Bradley Sandella, D.O., ATC, co-authored the study on the “core sling screen” tool that is helping prevent injuries in NFL players.

Catania and Ross care for patients at ChristianaCare Rehabilitation Services at Glasgow, in Newark, Del. They began working on ways to increase resilience in core muscles nearly nine years ago. Through their research, they developed a screening tool, which they call the “core sling screen,” to detect weakness in those muscles.

Strains are among the most common sports injuries, according to the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

“We reasoned that if we could identify ways to improve the strength of the core muscles, common lower extremity injuries would be less likely to occur,” said Catania, who also is the program manager at ChristianaCare’s Rehabilitation Services location in Glasgow.

“But it had to be a two-part approach. We needed to develop a reliable screening tool to examine the core muscles and then also come up with a targeted exercise program to strengthen those muscles.”

The study was conducted by ChristianaCare’s departments of Rehabilitation Services and Sports Medicine.

“At ChristianaCare, we are relentlessly curious and we continuously look for ways to innovate,” said Bradley Sandella, D.O., director of Sports Medicine at ChristianaCare, who co-authored the study.

“We don’t want to just treat injuries – we want to prevent them from ever occurring, even if it means that we have to come up with novel and progressive approaches.”

“We are always looking for ways to protect our patients, many of whom are athletes, from injury. It makes physical therapy better, it makes patients better, and it makes players better.”

Travis Ross, ChristianaCare physical therapist

A randomized-control study was performed to test out traditional exercises and compare them to a newly developed exercise program that involved rotational movements of the torso, known as rotary-based exercises.

The study found that the rotary-based exercises increased the activation of targeted abdominal muscles and could make adjacent areas of the body, such as the groin, less injury-prone. The study included 31 female and male students from the University of Delaware.

Catania and Ross have provided further instruction to both the Rams and Ravens. In May, they visited the Ravens’ facility in Owings Mills, Md., to personally instruct Ravens athletic trainers and physical therapists on how to perform the treatment.

The treatment also has been presented at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the Eastern Athletic Trainers Association.

“It has been meaningful through this research to contribute to the ongoing evolution in the field of physical therapy and sports medicine,” Ross said.

“We are always looking for ways to protect our patients, many of whom are athletes, from injury. It makes physical therapy better, it makes patients better, and it makes players better.”

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