Seeking help with injuries, Washington consults specialist who can strike a nerve / NFL
This article was originally published in the Washington Post, view the article here.
Kory Lichtensteiger has sustained enough injuries in his career to come to the conclusion that each is frustrating in its own right. Still, there was something particularly perturbing about what he was dealing with earlier this season.
At some point during the Washington's loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 11, the seventh-year center sustained a disc-related injury that was causing weakness in his left shoulder. Lichtensteiger missed the next three games and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 10 with a designation to return, which he will be able to do for Washington's first-round playoff game on Jan. 10.
“It was frustrating to be injured, but not feeling pain,” Lichtensteiger said. “You almost wish you were hurt. You feel like you can play through pain sometimes, but you can’t play through weakness.”
Lichtensteiger had been working tirelessly with the Washington's athletic training staff, but was unable to generate strength in his left shoulder no matter what he did.
Before the team’s game against the New England Patriots on Nov. 8, the third that Lichtensteiger missed, former Denver Broncos teammate John Lynch had a suggestion. Lynch, who was working the Fox broadcast, pointed Lichtensteiger in the direction of Greg Roskopf, a Colorado-based specialist who implements unique Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) he developed to resolve injuries that cannot be healed through conventional rehabilitation.
“You never have to think about firing your muscles,” Lichtensteiger said. “You lift weight and all these muscles just fire. I was at the point where I was trying to think about firing these muscles and they still wouldn’t fire. After I saw [Roskopf], it came back to that involuntary thing again and it was encouraging. To not see any results for so long, for five, six, seven weeks then all of a sudden like that, you know it’s not just a placebo effect. It was a real treatment that worked."
Weeks later, veteran defensive end Jason Hatcher had a similar injury. He pinched a nerve in his neck, which weakened his left shoulder. On the Tuesday prior to the Washington's game against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 13, Hatcher visited Roskopf for two days and was able to return to practice on Friday.
Roskopf’s practices jumpstarted Lichtensteiger’s rehabilitation and preserved the center’s season. He said he is now healthy enough to play in the playoff game, which is when he is eligible to return from IR. Josh LeRibeus, who moved to center from left guard in training camp, has started 10 games in Lichtensteiger’s absence.
Hatcher, meanwhile, never missed a game despite his injury. He played a limited role against the Bears, but was able to increase his playing time in the following two games, which were critical to the Washington securing the NFC East title.
“If it wasn’t for Greg, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now,” Hatcher said. “I used to do MAT when I played for Dallas, but I never had it done on this particular injury. When I saw the progression over a five-minute span, I was like ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ It kind of freaked me out, but he’s the guru.”
Roskopf served as Fresno State’s strength and conditioning coach from 1985 through 1988, then served as a part-time consultant to the medical staff while he was developing his own business. While he was working with athletes at Fresno State, he began developing MAT. Roskopf went on to work as a consultant for the Utah Jazz and worked full-time for the Denver Broncos from 1997 to 1999.
According to Roskopf, who still serves as a consultant for the Broncos, MAT features a hands-on stimulatory technique to re-establish the communication between the nervous system and the muscle systems. When that communication breaks down, rehabilitation exercises are sometimes ineffective.
“When you have a one-time high impact injury that causes a stinger, say like these guys got, the resulting inflammation alters the communication between the brain and the muscles,” Roskopf said. “I always say it’s like having loose battery cables. The nervous system is sending out signals and the muscles just can’t get the input. Their ability to tolerate force is a lot lower, it just makes the affected muscles very weak and can protect yourself from injury. More than anything, it helps speed up the rehabilitation process. These guys come in and this rehabilitation process is just so slow because of this altered communication. It’s almost like if you jump-start a battery on your car and you drive it, it reinforces it, but if you try to continuously start your car when you have a dead battery, it’s never going to start when you have a dead battery.”
Roskopf got to know Washington athletic trainer Larry Hess through former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who coached Washington from 2010 through 2013. When Lynch suggested Lichtensteiger visit Roskopf, Hess was on board.
“It’s working together, rather than working behind the scenes,” Roskopf said.
Lichtensteiger visited with Roskopf the same day he was placed on IR. The injury was so bad, Roskopf said, that the Washington center could not do even five pushups while leaning against a table. After a two-hour treatment session, Lichtensteiger was able to do several regular pushups. A few weeks later, Lichtensteiger returned for two more sessions. Hatcher’s injury was less severe than Lichtensteiger’s, so he was able to return to game shape after two 90-minute sessions.
Roskopf said he initially uses the exercises as a stress point to weaken the muscles before building them back up to a point where that no longer happens. From there, Lichtensteiger and Hatcher were able to continue their regular rehabilitation with Washington's training staff.
Hatcher, who played just 12 snaps against the Bears the week he was injured, played 42 snaps in Washington's division-clinching win against the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday. Lichtensteiger was required to miss eight games when he was put on short-term IR and could not return unless Washington made the playoffs.
It appeared Lichtensteiger’s season was over, except in the eyes of general manager Scot McCloughan.
“I remember when Scot told me, he didn’t bat an eye — he was so confident we’d make the playoffs,” Lichtensteiger said. “After I got back from Denver, he told me he was putting me on IR and we did it to return because he thought we were going on a run and win the division. I didn’t doubt him for a second.”
Even then, it was not a lock that Lichtensteiger would be healthy enough to return for the playoffs. After getting treatment from Roskopf and working diligently to rehabilitate the injury with Washington's athletic training staff, that uncertainty is giving way to the reality that Lichtensteiger can join the offensive line.
“That’s our guy,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “We’re happy to get him back. He’s a great leader, a great veteran, he’s all that combined into one and this offense will definitely pick up when he’s back.”