Toes high on the wall to relieve Achilles tendons, ankles over knees to stretch hips, and knees to chest on what looks like a march through a bog, the Kingsmen offense and defense take turns in the Grace Hall frontyard pool. Except for people who tan during heat waves, the dorm residents have cleared out, allowing strength and conditioning coach Patrick Holmberg ’03, Ed.D. ’11, to turn the five-foot pool into a workout pit.
This is Sunday, the biggest day for Kingsmen and Regals to recover, if not rest. It may also be the biggest day on campus for aquatic therapy, which student-athletes use to address injuries and to “get their legs back” after games. For football, the full-team Sunday aquatic recovery therapy has been around for two seasons. It became mandatory this year for players who take the field on game day.
Running a college sports program takes a lot of water. Check that. Everything important we do, including keeping young folks’ pain and swelling down after competition, requires plentiful fresh H2O.
With three tall machines making ice flakes, the room that head athletic trainer Kecia Davis commands in Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center is Ice Central. Davis can’t say how many bags of the stuff she and her assistants tape to students – 25 a day during football season? This is one rough measure of hurt.
“I’ve never played football, but after a football game, the next day, you don’t feel very good. You’re sore all over.”
As Davis is talking, a defensive back who tweaked his ankle during the week stops by. For the first couple of days after the injury, he applied cold water to his lower leg in a small “extremity” whirlpool. Then, for four to six weeks, the typical rehabilitation period for soft tissue, Davis will have him doing contrast baths in side-by-side, hot and cold whirlpools, one set above 105 degrees and the other below 60.
“We’re messing with the circulatory system,” she says. “In the heat, you get the increased blood flow which increases the range of motion” that the athlete can allow himself without pain. “Then the cold so it doesn’t swell any more. Back and forth.”
In the first week of pre-season soccer camp in August, Davis guesses, players turn on about 65 whirlpool baths. The training room has extremity whirlpools, full-body whirlpools and Big Mama, which looks like a single-basin stainless steel sink for a giant’s kitchen.
The resistance of water is great for strength training in the whirlpools and the Samuelson Aquatic Center swimming pool. At the urging of Davis’ staff, a tender-footed cross-country runner might jump into the big pool for an “aqua jog” with a flotation device strapped around the waist.
“You’re always doing something in the pool that you would normally do on land, but you don’t want as much stress on the joints or on the body,” Davis says. “We’re not going to aggravate the injury.”