Why Every Athlete May Benefit from Supporting Their Connective Tissue: Q/A With Doctor Lavrich
By: Heidi Harris, RD-N, CD-N, LD-N
What You’ll Learn: In this blog, we interview Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Janet Lavrich who gives us her professional tips as to how to help support your connective tissue and overall ligament health.‡
It’s here: training season is upon us. I know, your performance, your outcome and your overall training schedule is probably at the forefront of your mind. But have you felt the stiffness in your joints after training? Have you noticed a slowness to recover? Have you noticed the achiness in your muscles more recently? I’d be willing to bet that there’s something else you may be concerned about… your ligaments. Ligaments are those short bands of tough, fibrous connective tissue which work to connect bones or cartilage to a larger muscle at a joint.1 As an athlete, you know nurturing your connective tissue is crucial to peak performance. The last thing anyone wants is to be sidelined for half of a season because you’re nursing poorly nurtured connective tissue.‡
For this blog, we connected with Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Janet Lavrich, who shared her professional insight on how you can help nurture your connective tissue and help support ligament health. Dr. Janet Lavrich earned her Doctorate degree in Osteopathic Medicine from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. She currently is in her first postgraduate year surgical residency at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Colorado. Before that, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience at the University of Vermont. Let’s dive into Dr. Lavrich’s recommendations for supporting your connective tissue and ligament health.‡ This blog is for general wellness informational purposes only. It is not medical advice nor intended to replace the advice of your healthcare professional. Please consult your healthcare professional with any questions.
Q & A with Doctor Janet Lavrich:
Q. In your experience as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, can you share with us any common trends you’ve observed surrounding athletes and the potential risk overtraining may have on connective tissues such as ligaments?
A. Yes, common trends I’ve seen in athletes, both professional and collegiate surround risk areas such as the joints. Those include the shoulders, hips, knees and elbows. These areas tend to have a higher risk of potential stress from traumatic events or repetitive use type injuries. Reason behind this is while larger muscle groups are meant to stretch and be more flexible and adaptive to quick movements or different levels of impact, ligaments and connective tissue serve a different function. They act to help hold the bones or cartilage together and are not as flexible as larger, bulk muscle mass.
Q. Would you be willing to speak to the effects impact vs. non-impact training may have on connective tissues such as ligaments?
A. There are two main types of stressors that effect the connective tissue such as ligaments. Those are impact injuries and overuse/repetitive injuries. Impact includes quick change in direction or movement which usually results in bruising, or worse, and may lead to partial or full thickness tears in muscle tendons or ligaments. These tend to be serious and would require an evaluation with your healthcare practitioner to determine if further intervention is needed. When you think impact injury, think collision in football and any type of contact sports such as rugby, lacrosse and field hockey.
The second type is overuse/repetitive injury. This is just as it sounds. This may be due to the ergonomics athletes training, or the capacity of power athletes may expend to achieve an outcome. This may be due to doing too much of a certain movement or training. This usually presents as increased soreness that may worsen over time often occurring in ligaments or tendons and don’t usually require any invasive intervention unless it’s late in the stage. When you think of overuse or repetitive risk injuries, think of a pitcher throwing the baseball over and over again, or a swimmer swimming laps in the pool or even a tennis player on the court and runner on the tract.
Q. Have you noticed, in your professional experience, any practice that athletes have done to help support their connective tissue and skeletal muscle to help prevent the onset of injury?
A. Stretching, stretching, stretching! Warm up, stretch, prep with some simple cardiovascular activity and stretch again after the warm up when muscles are warm. The reason why warm muscles are important is because you can think of it as kind of like a rubber band. If you immediately pulled on rubber band after not using it for a long time, it’s more likely to break. If you slowly stretch that rubber band, it’ll stretch further and be less likely to break. That’s similar to how your muscles work. When muscles aren’t warmed up, muscles will be stiff, but if you warm them up, you’ll have greater flexibility and you’ll likely be able to do more in your sport without increased risk of injury.
I can’t stress this enough. Be sure to invest in the proper equipment. I mean good shoes, protective gear for your body including your joints and always wear your helmet to protect your head. Be sure to not forget about wearing the right shoes. If you don’t have the right shoes, the rest of your body won’t be in proper alignment – everything is through your feet. Improper shoes will affect the rest of your body. This is because other muscles not originally intended to be used would compensate for not having the right footwear and this has the potential to lead to increased risk of injury.
Second to stretching, resting and recovery is very important. You need to give your body the time to heal. When you exercise or work out, you’re creating tiny tears in your muscle fibers. Athletes need adequate recuperation time in order for the body to recover and build up the muscle fibers again. A good rule of thumb is that if something hurts in the workout, take a step back from the exercise. Don’t push through the pain because this could result in injury – give your body time to heal. If there’s pain that isn’t going away it’s time to check in with your healthcare provider.
Next on my list is full body strengthening. Let me give you a specific example: in baseball it’s the responsibility of the pitcher to throw the ball with the goal of getting the batter to strike out. I can’t tell you how often I hear, “Oh, there’s only 4 main muscles I need to focus on in order to be a better pitcher.” There are 17 muscles that attach to your shoulder blade, athletes need a balance of all muscles for better accuracy and outcome. This is why focusing on full body strengthening and eccentric exercises may be really beneficial for preventing injury and strengthening the full body, not just for sports, but also everyday life and movement.
The last piece I see in successful athletes is nutrition. It’s important to have a healthy diet, that is well rounded and a combination of everything. This includes the building blocks, such as amino acids, vitamins, carbohydrates, protein, fats and water for hydration. Too much, or too little of one specific category will not be as healthy as some may think. Often what I see, is those who try to limit their diet tend to require a longer recovery and don’t have as improved physical outcomes.
Q. In your professional opinion, do you believe that athletes both collegiate and professional may have concerns with their connective tissue health, thereby impacting their performance?
A. Look, the hard truth is that injuries can be career ending for an athlete and even worse have the potential to change the course of your life. Especially when you’re younger, the inability to perform as effectively as you once were able to can be crushing. Not taking the proper precautions or steps to help your ligaments and tendons warm up to exercise may cause future complications resulting in medical interventions or mobility issues. I’ve seen, in my practice, that as much as this concern is physical, it’s also mental. Many athletes have the concern of risking an injury and this can really shake their confidence when performing. That’s part of the reason why it’s important to take these recommendations into consideration so athletes may feel more confident in their muscle capacity to perform their best.
Q. Are there any specific nutritional recommendations you’ve observed in your practice that athletes have adhered to, to help support their connective tissues and maintain structural integrity?
A. One of the best practices athletes can do from a nutrition standpoint to help support their connective tissue is to fuel for their exercise. This includes eating a well-balanced and rounded diet with fruits, vegetables, lean healthy proteins and whole grain carbohydrates. Diets with healthy essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Manganese and Calcium are helpful to athlete’s recovery and replenishment. Amino acids such as the branch chain amino acids, isoleucine, leucine and valine have been shown to help support muscle recovery and structural integrity in athletes.
Klean Athlete: Connective Tissue Support
One of the major concepts that Dr. Janet Lavrich shared with us was the importance of flexibility to help support muscle function in athletic performance. Our Klean Joint & Muscle contains TamaFlex® which is a plant-based, synergistic blend of tamarind seeds and turmeric root that provides joint health benefits. Published human data supports significant improvements of joint comfort, function and flexibility. Study participants consuming 400 mg of TamaFlex daily showed knee flexion improvement and a 23-38% subjective improvement overall joint flexibility and function starting at day 14.2,3‡
Dr. Lavrich also spoke to the concept of athletic ergonomics or the capacity of power athletes may expend in order to achieve an outcome. Beta-Alanine supports muscle capacity and lessens muscle fatigue to benefit athletic performance. The amino acid beta-alanine supports muscle function by acting as a buffer to delay the onset of muscle fatigue. Our Klean SR Beta-Alanine provides 1.6 grams of beta-alanine in one serving to help support muscle performance. ‡
Not to mention, collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. Our joint cartilage and ligaments are made up of 70% collagen and our tendons are 85%. Intact collagen has a tightly bound protein structure and is hard to digest, but when broken down to its hydrolyzed (peptide) form it is easily absorbed in the intestinal tract.4 Collagen peptides offer protection for connective tissue that may become injured because of insufficient collagen in the tissues. Research shows that supplemental collagen peptides help maintain cartilage health by promoting cartilage regeneration and offer protection for connective tissue by supporting healthy collagen production.5 Our Klean Collagen+C contains 15 grams of hydrolyzed collagen and 50 milligrams of Vitamin C for its synergistic effects on the production of collagen after exercise.‡
Recover & Nurture Your Connective Tissue:
Like Dr. Lavrich said, stretch, stretch, stretch! The post-training recovery process in combination with a well-balanced diet rich in essential amino acids and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals may be helpful to support your overall connective tissue and ligament and tendon health so you can spend more time competing and less time sidelined. So, take a moment and ask yourself, how are you supporting your connective tissue?
Janet Lavrich is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience at the University of Vermont and her Doctorate degree in Osteopathic Medicine from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. She currently is in her first postgraduate year surgical residency at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Colorado.
- Cleveland Clinic. Ligament: Cleveland Clinic. Published June 7, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21604-ligament
- Int. J. Med. Sci. 2019, Vol. 16
- Sundaram, M. S. et al. Sci. Rep. 5, 11117
- Shaw et al, Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Jan;105(1):136-143.
- Moskowitz, R. W. October. 2000; Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 87-99. WB Saunders.
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