[Re]cover Me: Advances in Treatments, Products Keep Players Primed


A first-time, significant knee injury can spur an equally meaningful self-evaluation of everything that comprises the life of an athlete.

Fortunately for Tom Schreiber, his came at a time when advances in training and sports medicine have enabled athletes to recover better and quicker — not just from major injuries, but also from the effects of daily practices, workouts and games, too.

Schreiber scored the buzzer-beating, game-winning goal for Team USA in last summer’s Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship final against Canada, but forever taking a place alongside the legends of the U.S. men’s team seemed in doubt when he partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February 2018.

“I’ve been lucky to have resources available, but I ignored this piece of being an athlete for a long time,” Schreiber said. “I reevaluated everything after the knee injury. How could I curb the effects of playing a lot of games? I realized I’m not 22 anymore. I can’t just ‘recover.’”

At 27, Schreiber doesn’t represent old by any stretch, but lacrosse and training for it can grind a body of any age. A three-team effort, literally, between medical personnel with the Toronto Rock, Ohio Machine and US Lacrosse, guided a temporary return to play for the world games and a permanent return from the injury in the fall.

But perhaps more beneficial to the prospects of a long career, Schreiber’s reflection last year yielded three post-injury constants: a meticulous focus on diet and nutrition, three sessions of cryotherapy each week and a 10-minute hip mobility routine every day.

The daily hip exercises came courtesy of cousin Scott Schreiber, a strength and conditioning coach at Thrive Sports Performance, during a visit home to Long Island.

“It’s remarkable how loosening up your hips helps the rest of your body. Everything comes into place after that,” Tom Schreiber said.

Cryotherapy, by definition any treatment involving freezing or near-freezing temperatures, represents one of the recent trends in body health. Think submersion in an ice bath or application of a bag of ice on a sprained ankle, but substitute air for the ice-water combination.

“Large immersion chambers allow you to stand in very cold temperatures, but treatments are only a few minutes each because it’s so cold,” said Cristina Nistler, an athletic trainer at Northwestern.

Cryotherapy can be applied locally to a specific body part via a wand or other delivery device. Medical research remains incomplete, but count Schreiber among the believers.

“The best way I can describe the benefits is that I just feel fresher, sooner,” he said. “In the past, I’d be sore from a game until Wednesday. Then I’d train hard on Wednesday and have to back it down to prep for Saturday. Now, if I hydrate and eat right and get a cryo treatment the day or two after a game, I’m ready to roll and train on Tuesday.”

Nistler works with the lacrosse team at Northwestern and serves as the head trainer for the 2019 U.S. under-19 women’s team. A big believer in sleep and nutrition, Nistler plays part-time investigator while helping major college athletes stay on the field and out of her office.

“It’s important to help you as the athlete identify how you are feeling, because not every recovery tool is right for every feeling or condition,” she said.

General muscle soreness would warrant time in the cold tub, which helps to mitigate that soreness. For heavy legs, Nistler will deploy the NormaTec Pulse Recovery System, an intermittent compression attachment that mimics portions of a massage. NormaTec is a supporting partner of Team USA.

“Any exercise above a slow walk causes some damage to muscles, and when the body heals, we see the strong benefits of exercise,” Nistler said. “Metabolic byproducts also result from exercise. Eventually, the body’s blood circulation will carry those away from the damaged muscle and into the rest of the body. But when the byproducts linger, for example in the legs, that’s when you get the heavy-legs feeling. Intermittent compression boots like NormaTec’s improve circulation and gets those byproducts away from the legs sooner.”

Dispersing mal chemicals in a more timely fashion translates as a key boost to recovery and subsequent performance, particularly for athletes that tax their muscles daily in advance of game day.

Nistler contended the same for nutrition, especially when it comes to intake soon after a workout, practice or game. Northwestern, like many collegiate athletic departments, provides players with dietician-recommended snacks in the locker room.

“The body needs a combination of protein and carbohydrates within an hour of exertion,” Nistler said. “Here, the old school still rings true — chocolate milk or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich have the right ratios of carbs to protein to help the body recover.”

Schreiber admitted to overlooking hydration earlier in his career. It became a focus in Israel last summer for the world games, when the U.S. team medical staff “looked over our shoulder the whole time” to help the squad get through seven games in 10 days in an arid climate. Motive Pure offers a liquid solution of electrolytes like potassium and sodium, which help the body retain water. Mix with water and drink it during or soon after exertion to hydrate and to reduce muscle cramps.

National Lacrosse Hall of Famer Jesse Hubbard, who collapsed from dehydration after a Major League Lacrosse game, founded the company of the same name in 2011. Motive Pure since has partnered with the US Lacrosse national teams program and dozens of colleges; its lack of sugar an attractive one-up on older sports-beverage products.

In the here and now, Schreiber said he’s about 95 percent following late-summer surgery to remove scar tissue on the knee. “Captain America” certainly looked the part, sharing the Rock lead with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) through six games. Going forward, Schreiber’s injury-induced introspection since has allowed him to take advantage of an ever-growing variety of advancements in athlete recovery, boosting the prospects that he adds to his already impressive career resume.

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