Society is changing rapidly right before our eyes. From technology and transportation to health care and physical fitness, what we know and the way we live is constantly evolving.
We spoke with Orlando Magic Head Athletic Trainer Ernest Eugene about the changing ways he and his staff take care of players both in- and off-season. AdventHealth's Debra Harger-Koperski, Licensed Massage Therapist, and Dr. Emily Mammone, Licensed Acupuncturist, also share how these therapy techniques can support your health and fitness goals.
A New Standard of Health and Fitness
In decades past, for professional athletes, being "healthy" meant something different than it does today. There wasn’t always a push to perform at peak fitness or an understanding of the importance of rest, recovery and whole-health care.
But now, professional athletes and rec league enthusiasts alike are educating themselves on better ways to get in shape and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Smartphones have enabled better monitoring of sleep, calories burned and eating habits. Technologies new and old, like cryotherapy and cupping, are changing the way people recover from and prevent sports injuries. There is plenty to learn from the Orlando Magic and the AdventHealth teams who dedicate their lives to keeping all types of athletes at the top of their games.
A Look Inside the Magic's Training Department
Ernest Eugene has a big job. As the Orlando Magic's head athletic trainer, he plays a pivotal role in overseeing the health and fitness of the 15 athletes on the team. Not only does his job demand constant monitoring of players during the long, 82-game NBA regular season (plus the playoffs), but he must also ensure those athletes have everything they need to stay in shape during the offseason.
“We use the offseason for a variety of things,” explains Eugene. “If a player has any post-surgical or long-term rehab, we can use the time off to get them ready for the start of next season. With healthy players, we like to focus on improving strength. The offseason is our time to get players physically stronger — because you usually don't have that opportunity during the season to work on muscle gains and growth.”
His job can take him all over the country during the offseason, traveling to wherever the Magic players might be to assist their rehabilitation regimen. "We might send an athletic trainer to Los Angeles or anywhere a player spends their time and work with them three days per week, depending on where they are in the rehab process," Eugene says. Players who stay local during the summer can get as many as five days of treatment per week.
The types of treatments Eugene and his team administer to players have evolved over the years. Therapies like massage, acupuncture, cryotherapy and customized nutrition plans are the new normal. The Magic front office coordinates the athletic trainers with the strength trainers, team chef (who is also the registered dietitian), coaching staff and analytics department. This dynamic network of experts keeps the Magic on par with a cutting-edge approach to modern professional sports.
On working with the analytical team, Eugene says, "They do a great job providing us and our sports scientist with a game report detailing how much physical exertion each player experienced. We track that daily. We use those data points to assess how their bodies are reacting, and coordinate with the strength and conditioning team to design training sessions that meet each player's needs."
Those needs increasingly involve a diverse field of new treatment strategies. Eugene uses a cryotherapy chamber: a little over two minutes exposed to the liquid nitrogen that reaches -300°F is a valuable tool in the recovery battle against inflammation.
"It flushes the whole body out, all the lactic acid that's accumulated through practice and games." And if for some reason this new-school technique isn’t available, players can still submerge in ice water. The cryotherapy chamber requires a few precautions, however: clothes must be completely dry, hands and feet must be covered, and any cuts must be fully bandaged to avoid exposure to the extreme cold.
Treating Your Body with New Therapies
If you think only professional athletes have access to modern treatments, think again.
AdventHealth's licensed acupuncturist Dr. Emily Mammone from the Center for Health and Wellbeing explained that therapies like the ones players use can treat everything from sports injuries to everyday aches and pains.
As part of AdventHealth Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, Dr. Mammone uses acupuncture to repair as well as prevent injuries.
"The main benefit is that acupuncture helps increase oxygenated blood flow throughout the body,” she says. “This increase in oxygen can have a wide range of positive effects on the body. But the main thing that brings patients to me is pain."
Balance and awareness of the body, also known as proprioception, can also improve through acupuncture. This can be especially advantageous for athletes. "It’s important for any athlete, or anybody engaged in exercise, to have increased proprioception to prevent injury. If there is an injury that occurs, or overuse of a muscle or a joint, the soft tissue in that area can adapt accordingly."
While pain may be the symptom that brings patients to Dr. Mammone’s office, her acupuncture therapy has been attributed to improving many aspects of patients' lives. "Stress, sleep, digestion and musculoskeletal issues improve with treatment. But we still see a lot of back, knee, ankle and shoulder issues. Pain is like the gateway to acupuncture. That may be why they seek us out, but then they stay and continue treatment because they like the way it makes them feel."
Cupping is another unique treatment option that has grown in popularity. Swimmer Michael Phelps created buzz at the Olympics when he competed with circular bruises on his back. Those markings were the result of cupping.
"I like to think of it as the opposite of massage,” says Dr. Mammone. “Instead of compressing the tissue, you're decompressing the tissue, essentially creating a vacuum on the skin. This vacuum can be achieved through heat or a pump. The suction pulls old blood to the surface of the skin, allowing fresh, oxygenated blood to help the area in pain. This is great for muscle soreness and stiffness. And cupping works best when paired with acupuncture; they complement each other and work together."
Licensed massage therapist Debra Harger-Koperski says trust is the foundation in the relationship with the patient. "We have to have a trust, a bond, an understanding; we always interview the athlete or client. Ask them what's going on with their body, what they are comfortable with. I try to get a rapport with them."
Once they have an understanding, she can maximize the therapeutic benefits that massage can offer. "It improves circulation, relaxes the sympathetic nervous system, increases joint mobility, flexibility and improves soft tissue recovery. Once we get into deep tissue, we increase the range of motion. It helps reduce painful contractions and spasms. Sometimes a muscle can be so constricted it puts pressure on a nerve, so you have to release the tension from the muscle so the nerve can relax."
Harger-Koperski says massage is important for even the casual athlete: "Regular massage is extremely vital to any athlete or weekend warrior. Your muscles get tense and need downtime to recover. Massage helps optimize this downtime period and rejuvenate the blood flow into the muscle. The lymphatic system helps drain out inflammation. The massage helps in that process, aiding in recovery. Proper breathing is a huge part of massage. We walk through breathing exercises before we get into any deep tissue techniques. And water. Water is huge. The hydration helps flush the toxins released during the massage."
A Holistic Approach to Whole Health and Fitness
Eugene utilizes both acupuncture and massage as elements of his therapies with the Magic. He draws a parallel between the relaxation benefits of those disciplines and the importance of sleep.
"Combined with diet, sleep is the most overlooked part of gaining a competitive edge," he says. He explains it is all part of the proper preparation necessary to win the advantage over your opponent. And it’s an organizational effort.
"We meet every day to see where the players are at. We touch upon what injury or ailment a player might be dealing with. We analyze it from the medical and conditioning standpoint."
Whether you’re looking for traditional treatments or the newest techniques, we’re here for you with personalized care and support. Learn how AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab can help you achieve your unique health and fitness goals.