Surviving Backyard Football During the Holidays

Madeleine Brand speaks with former New York Jets assistant physician Shawn Rassman about how to avoid injuries during backyard football games this Thanksgiving.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Thanksgiving is a day for turkey, parades and, of course, football. Legions of fans will be glued to their TV sets today to watch the sport. Many others will head outside to their local parks or back yards for a little Thanksgiving game. And, as any player knows, age is a factor. So we have a few words of advice now for those of you who plan to suit up but aren't necessarily in your athletic prime. Shawn Rassman is a former assistant physician for the New York Jets, and he's a practicing orthopedic surgeon here in Southern California.

Welcome to the program.

Dr. SHAWN RASSMAN (Orthopedic Surgeon): Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, let's, first of all, talk about prevention. Do you need any special equipment for one of these backyard games?

Dr. RASSMAN: Special equipment would be helpful. Certainly, when players are playing in their youth, on either high school or college or recreational teams, they usually have all the appropriate equipment. Say, with the typical turkey bowl day games, players aren't using the proper equipment. The field conditions are often inadequate. On the East Coast, these conditions are often very snowy and cold. These things all do contribute to the rate of injuries that we see around Thanksgiving.

BRAND: So what should you put on if you have it sort of lying around in your closet that could help mitigate those injuries?

Dr. RASSMAN: Shoes with proper traction can be helpful but they also paradoxically can increase the rate of twisting injuries to the knee. More important than the type of equipment used would actually be the physical preparations for the game. Most times, players come into the game dehydrated, or, often, hydrated in the wrong way, with too many short-chain hydrocarbons, also known as beer. And the players most often for these games don't take an adequate period of time to warm up. On top of that, the players often are slightly deficient in technique.

BRAND: What are you saying?

Dr. RASSMAN: Well, sometimes the glory years are farther away than most of us care to remember.

BRAND: So what if you have something like a strain? Do you treat it with hot or cold?

Dr. RASSMAN: A strain is characterized by immediate pain. Usually I recommend cold therapy, initially, after the injury. Cold therapy helps to reduce inflammation. After the initial inflammatory phase, then we usually recommend heat, and that's to warm up the muscle to make it ready for stretching and for rehabilitation. Fortunately, the majority are minor and will often prevent the athlete from continuing in the game, or depends on how strong-headed they are.

BRAND: You're using that word `athlete,' by the way, most generously.

Dr. RASSMAN: Yeah, probably. But for one day we can all be athletes.

BRAND: What about you? Are you going out there? Will you...

Dr. RASSMAN: Actually, I've participated in many turkey bowls in my day. I've participated in turkey bowls with large groups of fellow orthopedic surgeons and we are as stubborn as the next. In just the few turkey bowls I've participated in with my colleagues, we've had a few ACL tears, shoulder dislocations, hand injuries and a few, actually, concussions.

Now I think part of the problem is many of these people are playing for bragging rights for an entire year and that may add another level of intensity and reckless abandonment to their playing techniques.

BRAND: And then you have to deal with the wounded egos.

Dr. RASSMAN: Wounded egos may take longer to heal.

BRAND: Dr. Shawn Rassman is a former assistant physician for the New York Jets. He joined us from his office in Southern California, where he is a practicing orthopedic surgeon. Thank you, Dr. Rassman, and good luck out there.

Dr. RASSMAN: Thank you, Madeleine. Happy Thanksgiving.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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