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Micah Kiser '13 on Rehabilitation

by Micah Kiser '13

Football is the world’s greatest sport. Yes, I’m biased in saying that, but it’s true. The teamwork, hard work, locker room, sense of accomplishment, and overall personal growth that football provides is second to none. The downside to football, especially at the professional level, is that the injury rate is nearly 100%. Last summer I tore my patellar tendon in the second week of training camp for the Las Vegas Raiders. Here’s a little behind-the-curtain view of the rehabilitation process of a professional athlete.

When a player’s injury requires surgery, the NFL permits that player to choose their surgeon. In fact, most players choose to go to surgeons who specialize in an area rather than using a team surgeon. Also, sometimes teams allow players to rehab their surgeries at a physical therapy place of their choice. This helped me out a lot as I was living in Southern California with my wife at the time, so I chose Dr. Neal Elattrache, a premier knee surgeon based out of LA, to do my surgery. I chose to do my rehab at Proactive Sports Performance, a popular gym that trains many NFL and NBA players, that just so happens to be down the street from my house.

I had my surgery the first week of August 2022, and the first piece of advice my doctor gave me post-op was to get my knee moving as soon as possible. Dr. Elattrache sent me home with a CPM machine that mechanically moves your knee for you. This helps break up scar tissue and promotes blood circulation in the knee. The day after my surgery I was using the CPM machine, even with all of my stiches and a fully bandaged leg.

The next week I started going to rehab my knee. For the past eight months, I’ve gone to Proactive Sports Performance four to five times a week to work on my knee's range of motion, retrain the muscles around my leg, help build up my quad strength, and most importantly, relearn how to walk. The muscle atrophy in my quad post-op was almost immediate and has taken a long time to get back to full strength. While at Proactive, I’ve used every type of exercise modality you could dream of including the NEUBIE Electrical Stimulator to help activate my quad muscles, Bosu balls to work on glute and quad strength while balancing, and the zero-gravity treadmill to learn how to walk again among others. I’ve spent countless hours with my physical therapist working to return to the playing field.

Another exercise machine we use a lot is the Biodex Isokentic System. This machine is great at showing force output generated by my hamstring and quad in relationship to each other. Your quad should be stronger than your hamstring for healthy walking, jogging, running, and overall athleticism. As previously mentioned, building up quad strength has been a major factor in my recovery. The Biodex system can also show how much of a deficit my bad knee is at in comparison to my healthy knee. Right now, my surgically repaired knee is still at about a 50% deficit to my healthy knee so I have a lot more work to do!

The progress has been slow, but I’ve learned to celebrate the little wins along the way. These wins include going from walking using two crutches down to one crutch and eventually to no crutches — a process that took about three months, cycling on the stationary bike pedaling backwards and then eventually being able to pedal forward, being able to do a bodyweight and then eventually barbell squat, progressing from jumping off of two legs to being able to single leg hop on my surgically repaired knee, and most recently, running on the underwater treadmill. When the doctor gives you a yearlong recovery window, these small wins feel monumental on the journey back from injury.

Another important aspect to my rehab has been rest and recovery. I use Wednesdays as a recovery day to get my quad, hamstring, and calf massaged. I also stretch my hip flexors, quads, and hamstrings in a hot room to help improve mobility and flexibility. Additionally, I have mixed in weekly hot yoga sessions that have helped with my overall knee stability, flexibility, and mental wellness. In general, I’m a big fan of compression, and I wear a knee or leg sleeve daily and have Normatec boots at home to help with blood circulation in the legs. A few months into my rehab program, I was going pretty hard in the gym, and found that I was starting to plateau without making any major improvements. My knee had begun to swell up and my strength was stagnant. It was recommended that I take a break, so I decided to take a week off from training. Over that week all I did was stretch and occasionally ride the stationary bike. When I returned to rehab a week later, my knee felt great. Swelling had gone down and my strength and mobility in my knee felt a lot better. As a highly competitive and intense athlete, it's tough to remember that your body needs time to rest and recover and that these are as vital parts of the rehabilitation process as grinding out strength exercises, if not more important. Without rest you will never get better!

Time spent at home has also led me to focus more on my nutrition and what I eat. In order to help gain more muscle mass I have consumed a protein-heavy diet over the past few months supplemented with protein shakes post workouts, eggs and bacon for breakfast, and dinners consisting of steak, chicken, burgers, pork tenderloin, salmon, and just about every other protein you can think of. Thankfully, I’ve also proven to be a pretty decent cook. I wear a WHOOP bracelet to keep track of my calories burned during the day and to know how much food I need to eat to either gain, lose, or maintain my weight. On the weekend, I do partake in the occasional Crumbl cookie or two—when you earn the weekend, you have to celebrate!

This process has also afforded me a lot of time to read a ton of different books ranging from Malcom Gladwell books on why society is the way it is to Jon Meachem’s illuminate work on Abraham Lincoln. I highly recommend "The World For Sale" by Blas and Farchy for any of you interested in history, geopolitics and the economy.

Overall, this has been a very tough process for me as it really was a pretty debilitating injury. Everything from sleeping, going to the bathroom by myself, showering, driving, to walking has been very hard over the past year. Thankfully, I’ve had a very strong support system around me in my wife, Maggie Kiser. Not very many people out there get married in July, then ask their wife to physically take care of them a month later. I guess I’m lucky, even though she is a McDonogh grad! She has supported me every day along the way and helped me more than she knows. I think it’s important to have someone around that you can lean on when recovering from an injury, both mentally and physically, and for me, that has been my wife.

Hopefully, by the summer I’ll be back full strength and gearing up for another NFL season. If not, I know I’ve learned a lot about myself and the people around me over the past year. If anyone reading this is going through any type of sports injury they would like to talk about, always feel free to reach out. Most importantly, keep at it, and remember, you’re never out of the fight!

Micah Kiser '13 on Rehabilitation



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