Dallas Cowboys: The Science of Injuries (Why injuries occur in camp)

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 30: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys spits water before a game against the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 30: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys spits water before a game against the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Now that the Dallas Cowboys have started practicing in pads, the potential increase in soft tissue injuries is upon us. Here is why it happens.

Every year during training camp it seems players, not just on the Dallas Cowboys, but on all NFL teams have a run of hamstring injuries, muscle soreness/tightness, mild sprains, mild strains, and other soft tissue injuries.

Some players seem to be more prone than others, or perhaps they have set themselves up for them. There are a few reasons, here is some of the science of why.

A few days ago Rick Burkholder, trainer for Kansas City, tweeted out:

This simple piece of knowledge sent me down a path of relearning everything I knew about hydration, fitness, and why injuries occur.

Note: For those of you who do not know my personal story, I spent ten years in Army Special Operations before a serious injury. So while I may not have been training like a football player, I certainly was training at an elite level. I understand much of what I will be writing about on a deep level, but I still had some research to delve into.

It takes the human body about 10-14 days to normalize on hydration levels. The range is based upon bio-metrics, however, simply put, some people sweat more than others, anxiety sweat is different than physical sweat, and some other physical differences. For this purpose we will say between 10-14 days. After about three days in training camp teams tend to start work in pads, which increases exertion and heat, this is one major cause for dehydration levels dropping on day 3.

If we look back at past Dallas Cowboys’s training camps, right around the first week is when players would have hamstring issues. Once someone has had an injury to a part of the body, it is more likely to be re-injured. Hence, this is why some players seem to have injuries year after year around the same time in training camp. Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie, Allen Hurns, and Deonte Thompson were all cases last training camp early.

Once the perspiration starts and salt is lost, cramping takes over, and the soft tissue is one of the first things affected. Tendons, Ligaments, and of course muscles are all part of this. There is a lot of science behind the amount of water, salt, etc based upon things like body weight, mass, exertion, and so on.

But to put it in layman’s terms, the muscles need water to carry nutrients and keep cell health. Salts are a massively important part as well, and this is why Ringer’s solution (IVs) are salts and water.

Joints need the water for something called Synovial fluid. This fluid is mostly water and is needed to keep joints flexible. Once you lose this due to dehydration, it causes more stress on joints. Here is where we see tendon and ligament strains and sprains. Look around the league every training camp and you will see these types of injuries, J.J. Wilcox just had one himself.

Being in elite physical condition, particularly athletes, military, police, and the like, usually have components to muscle building. Having been in Special Operations and a weightlifter, I certainly understand the gym as well as the good and bad to working out. Water is perhaps the number one cause in soft tissue injuries in weightlifters and muscle building using body weight. However, there is a little more to it as well.

When working out with weights, like most football players do, there is more than the simple “hydration” equation. If you do a ton of squats, as an example, but don’t put a similar effort into the hamstrings, you will increase the likelihood of hamstring injuries. The exertion of the quads without the opposing muscle group causes undue stress on the weaker muscle groups. So you can drink all the water you want (although too much is also bad), and still end up with injuries.

A caveat, football is a violent sport and injuries will happen, not all injuries are due to either of the things I listed above. Sometimes a hit, bad field conditions, a wrong turn, all can have serious results. Ask A.J. Green this year, his injury was due to terrible field conditions. Injuries will always happen, but the first 10-14 days usually see an increase.

Water by itself is vital to replenishing and preventing injuries. However, we all know “sports drinks” are widely used. The reason is the salts and mineral replacements are key in these drinks. The sugar aspect can be detrimental, but the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Think of it this way, if you lose 100mg of salt, it has to be replaced somehow. If you know you will be exerting yourself, you will need to ensure you have enough to recover from the loss without significant issues.

If you have ever gone to the gym after being away for a while, you will be sore for about 3 days following a workout. This is called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), and there is quite a lot of research out there leaning toward the more hydrated you are the less sore you will be and the faster you will recover. Some people, who are dehydrated, can have DOMS last a week. This is why players will complain of soreness or tightness a few days after a hard workout.

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Now, I have tried to keep this fairly simple to understand without going into the thermoregulation math, the hydration equations, or even cell osmosis. Trust me, that would put everyone to sleep. However, it is important to understand the basics of why hydration is so important, especially the first two weeks of training camp.

This science is only a part of what trainers must pay attention to. Off-season workouts are just as important and in some ways even more so than workouts during the season. Much of the during the season workouts lean toward maintenance, flexibility, and injury prevention or recovery. Off-season is about growth, agility, mass index, or other major changes.

So as we now head into the first full week of practice in pads, and quickly approaching the first game, pay attention to the injuries. There will be some to worry about and some to understand are minor and will not affect much in the long run. As players get older, they will need some extra time to recover, so don’t panic if Jason Witten or Tyron Smith take a day or two off, here and there.

Next. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout forcing front office’s hand. dark

We are approaching preseason game one, and if the Cowboys can get there with minimal injuries, it is a positive sign. Outside of the normal football injury, the next ten days will be some of the most important. Go Cowboys, and don’t forget to drink water.

  • Published on 07/30/2019 at 11:00 AM
  • Last updated at 07/30/2019 at 11:03 AM