Medicine on the court
Jacksonville doc (and Jacksonville Giants team physician) shares thoughts on sports and staying fit
By Matt Galnor
Professional athletes often say they relate better to a coach who played at a high level himself, rather than someone who never saw much action on the court or field. So does that experience also help when a former athlete becomes the team doctor? Yes, according to Nigel W. Sparks, M.D., an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation at the UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville. Sparks is the team physician for the Jacksonville Giants, an American Basketball Association team that began its second season last month. Sparks, who sees patients at the Shands Jacksonville Bone and Joint Institute, was a two-time All-American soccer player at Penn State and the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1992. He also played professional soccer for the Philadelphia Freedom.
Do you think your experience as an athlete helps credibility with the players?
Yeah, I think they can sort of relate. And, like any professional, a lot of the injuries they have, I’ve already had. So I understand where they’re coming from and it’s easier to talk to them about an injury once you’ve been through it. We all want to get back and play, but the question is how can we do it safely. Having been there and dealt with injuries and played at that level, I think it makes it easier for me to talk to them and help them see what they have to go through.
What are some common mistakes amateur athletes make?
Stretching. They don’t stretch enough. A lot of the injuries athletes get tend to be overuse injuries, so a lot of it tends to be tendinitis or sprains or strains. The majority of those can be prevented just by stretching and staying flexible. The issue becomes as a muscle fatigues, the tendon for that muscle shortens. And as the muscle fatigues, if you don’t have that stretch, that’s what causes the tear.
What can weekend warriors do to stay healthy?
It really depends on the sport. If you’re playing a sport that involves throwing or an upper body sport, then without a doubt it’s making sure you focus on stretching the shoulders, keeping your core strength for the shoulders. If you’re talking a more lower-body sport, whether it’s cycling or soccer, you’re really talking about just stretching the hamstrings and your Achilles, because those are the two most prominent injuries for lower body sports. People think if they are just going to the gym to lift weights, they don’t need to stretch, but it can only help prevent those tears and strains.
What’s the strangest injury you’ve seen during a game?
Last year, I had a guy who broke his cheekbone during the game. He got hit in the nose, but it ended up breaking his cheekbone. He was obviously bleeding from his nose at the time, but he had pain in his cheek. He ended up having to wear a face mask the rest of the year. Those tend to be hard to manage because people don’t want to wear the face mask for basketball.
So when you’re there for the Giants, are you the doctor for both teams?
Yes. Usually teams don’t travel with a doctor. We go to a few if they are close, but most of the road games the team will use the home team doctors — if they have them. A lot of the teams in the ABA probably don’t even have trainers. We kind of have a unique situation here; we have a trainer and a doctor with them full time.