For Baylor College of Medicine orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Adickes, playing football was not just a fantasy. Now, the former NFL offensive lineman finds himself constantly translating what he learned on the field to his practice and care for athletes in the clinic or on the operating table.
“Former football players tend to start watching a play by watching their position group, so as a former offensive lineman, I tend to watch the line play and for me, watching the line play leads me into the action,” said Adickes, chief of the division of sports medicine and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor. “As a doctor, of course, I’m also looking for hits that might lead to concussions or other injuries. I know certain places where you’re obviously more susceptible to getting hurt. If you’re leading the play and you’re taking on the block, then all the action is behind you. Obviously I start to cringe because I’ve been injured a few times – I can see them coming probably a little sooner than the average observer.”
Because of his expertise, Adickes is regularly called on by the sports media to explain some of the injuries that athletes incur. As a sports medicine expert for both ESPN and DirecTV, fans rely on him to explain an athlete’s injury, what it means, what the treatment is, when he thinks they’ll be back on the field and whether they’ll be the same upon their return.
To answer these questions, Adickes relies on several things. First, any reports from the field, whether they’re from reporters or from the team. Next, the game footage allows him to review the play during which the injury took place. Finally, he’s waiting on MRI results to see if the athlete will require surgery or can rehab from the injury.
When observing players who are returning from injuries, Adickes looks to see how they respond to falls and hits.
“For example, there are many players coming back this season after foot metatarsal fractures, which are injuries to the bones in your foot that connect your ankle to your toes, so you want to see how they’re pushing off of their foot,” he said.
Adickes also translates these observations into treatment plans for his patients.
For high school and college athletes, Adickes says that after they heal, he wants them to start in the gym and slowly move to the field for contact drills, and then finally to more vigorous drills including plyometrics and box jumps.
“Once you have them able to do anything you ask outside of their sport, then you get them in their sport in a more controlled fashion and eventually into a game-like setting. So you really are progressing them slowly, all the while ensuring that whatever was fixed on that athlete has had sufficient time to heal so that it can get back to action without being at risk of further injury,” he said.
When it comes to taking his advice, patients tend not to hesitate, because he has literally been in their shoes.
“What helps me in sports medicine is that I played the sport, I’ve had the injuries, I’ve had the surgeries and now I take care of the athletes. It’s sort of come full circle for me. When you tell them something, they believe it because you’re talking from first-hand experience.”