A sprained thumb. A groin strain. Migraines. A broken toe. Wrist injuries. A concussion. A subluxed shoulder that required surgery. A hip strain. And now a broken hand.
One would be hard pressed to not find even the slightest bit of sympathy for Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton after the spate of injuries he has suffered over the first seven seasons of his MLB career. Soft tissue. Bone. Brain. The injuries he’s experienced have run the gamut of both tissue and severity and have many wondering what he did to deserve such terrible luck.
The fact of the matter is this: Byron Buxton has done nothing wrong and that makes his 2021 season the height of frustration, not because of himself as an individual, but because his body simply will not allow him to wow the denizens of Target Field on a nightly basis.
The term “injury prone” gets thrown around quite often, particularly in cases similar to that of Buxton’s. While it is true that some players suffer injuries more often than others, the underlying factors that cause such injuries are often anyone’s best guess. Perhaps the athlete has a genetic predisposition, a “flaw” in their DNA structure that codes for more feeble muscles or brittle bones. Perhaps they indulge themselves on too many cheeseburgers when their body is better at extracting nutrients from fish or plant-based protein sources. Perhaps they simply have just plain bad luck.
The term “injury prone” is not a neutral term, despite the insistence of many, fans and media members alike. The term often connotes a set of failures on the part of the athlete and suggests that if they had just done something better, they would be able to stay on the field. What that something is is often conveniently left blank - “How am I supposed to know? I’m not a doctor!” - but the implication persists.
The fact of the matter is that quite often the medical community does not know what can be done to sufficiently prevent injuries from occurring and that is frustrating as hell. The sciences of athletic rehabilitation and injury prevention are not as firm as we’d like to believe. Coming back from injury is not like chemistry. Preventing one is not like theoretical physics. Very infrequently are their concrete formulas that explain the exact best way for getting an athlete back on the field and keeping them there.
Many treatments and injury prevention programs are educated guesses, at best. There is little evidence that any sort of treatment works better than any other. Ultrasonic waves of energy delivered to a tissue by a specialized machine theoretically warm the tissue and promote blood flow and healing, but the results don’t bear out when tested. In theory, strengthening the muscles of the core, hip, and thighs will prevent catastrophic lower body injuries, but athletes around the world tear their ACLs and blow their Achilles at alarming rates.
Injuries are fickle. What we know for certain, something that pops up in the scientific literature over and over again, is that the best predictor for future injury is past injury. Beyond that, the world of athletic rehabilitation is a chasm filled to the brim with unknowns. A team’s medical staff may employ the current best evidence and practices and treat their athletes 100% “by the book” and yet see them suffer injury after injury. Another may use unorthodox treatments that have little, if any, scientific backing and be heralded as the best among their peers because their athletes are seemingly impervious to breaking down.
Injuries are not straightforward phenomena as much as we all wish them to be. Their occurrence is not straightforward. Their treatment is not straightforward. Their prevention is not straightforward. Nothing about them is straightforward and it is exactly this opaqueness that makes them so damn frustrating.
By all accounts, Byron Buxton is one of the hardest working athletes in the game. He is revered by his teammates and coaching staff. He’s one of the good ones. And, yet, his body has betrayed him over and over and over again. That is not his fault. It is not the training staff’s fault. It is nobody’s fault. And that makes it all the more unfair.
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