Every summer, the New England Patriots gather at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, for Training Camp, where the players run football drills, develop plays, and scrimmage each other. Marking the start of the preseason, this year’s Patriots Training Camp opens on July 26, and gives fans a chance to watch their beloved team prepare for the NFL season. The team’s medical staff is also in attendance, monitoring the players’ health and performance, diagnosing and treating injuries, and advising on training techniques.
Mass General Brigham’s director of emergency sports medicine, Gian Corrado, MD, discusses his role at the Patriots Training Camp and offers healthy strategies for all athletes to use during the offseason.
Corrado: Camp is designed to get the team prepared to play great football, and part of that is conditioning to get into shape and return to their top playing condition—which they need to do safely. The team physicians are there to monitor player health and advise on safe and effective practice and play. We have a big focus on injury prevention, and we’re on hand should any of the players get injured or have medical concerns or questions.
I cover all nonsurgical medical concerns, such as concussions, eye and ear injuries, and even respiratory issues like coughs and asthma. Because training occurs in the height of summer, we also pay close attention to preventing and treating heat-related illnesses like dehydration and heat stroke.
I work in concert with Scott Martin, MD, lead orthopedic surgeon for the Patriots, who focuses primarily on bone and muscle injuries like suspected sprains and fractures. Dr. Martin and I routinely consult with our fellow team doctors and Mass General Brigham colleagues on the whole gamut of medical concerns that come up for the Patriots. We all work closely with the team athletic trainers, led by head athletic trainer Jim Whalen.
Corrado: While the regular football season runs from fall to winter, preseason training occurs in the summer during high heat and humidity. Those factors, combined with bulky padding and the intense physical exertion of players who may have taken a break from conditioning, can be dangerous or even deadly. So, awareness and monitoring of temperature and weather conditions is a key focus.
Players should hydrate leading up to training sessions, take regular water breaks, and rest in shaded areas between activities. We have fans, ice packs, cold towels, and tents at the ready for anyone experiencing overheating, dizziness, or discomfort. We also integrate cooling activities, with rotations in the air-conditioned gym and even ice baths and cold-water plunges.
As a rule, athletes should not strenuously exercise during the hottest hours of the day. If a day is particularly hot or humid, coaches and trainers should be prepared to pause or reschedule training for safety.
Corrado: You see all the same sorts of injuries you see during the season, like overuse injuries, tackle or impact related trauma, and concussions, but also heat-related conditions and injuries like torn muscles or shin splints that result from failure to warm up and ramp up adequately.
Some fairly common football injuries are those to the ACL/knee, the groin, and the hamstring. All three of these injuries can seriously derail an athlete, and so we implement injury prevention programs targeting these areas.
The players have had varying periods of inactivity after the end of last season. Their bodies may not be accustomed to strenuous exercise and weight training, because even a few weeks of rest can take someone playing at this level out of shape. As the players get back into shape, we focus on strength and flexibility in order to prevent injury.
When a player does get injured, whether it’s a more serious trauma or just chronic muscular pain or discomfort, the doctors and athletic trainers work together to assess and modify the player’s training regimen to make sure we aren’t exacerbating an injury. Rest and modified exercises are sometimes recommended for players who have been recently injured, are prone to injury, or are living with a chronic illness such as asthma or sickle cell trait.
Exercises for football athletes wanting to prevent injuries, especially to commonly injured parts of the body like the ACL, groin, and hamstring, are readily available online.
Corrado: There are three facets to athletic conditioning:
When he’s not working with the Patriots, Dr. Corrado sees patients at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Medical appointments with Dr. Corrado can be made by calling 617-726-7500.
Mass General Brigham recently launched the Center for Sports Performance and Research at Foxboro’s Patriot Place, a facility where athletes of all levels and abilities can work with performance trainers and sports medicine researchers to get individualized conditioning and recovery plans designed to help them excel in their given sport. To make an appointment, call 508-216-1145.
Learn about Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine services