If the UFC had it's own Chinese zodiac, this would be the year of the injury. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 fighters have been struck with the injury bug and pulled from fights since January. With five months left, I fully expect that number to be near double by 2013. So, what do these athletes do when they get injured? Who do they turn to? Well, if you're in the Southern California area, you go to the OC Fight Doc aka Dr. William Kessler.
With a client list featuring elite level athletes, names like Michael Bisping, Quinton Jackson and Fabricio Werdum are considered "regulars" at Dr. Kessler's clinic. These guys don't just go to the doc when they've been injured, either. They go for all kinds of "routine maintenance" to keep their bodies in top form.
With physicians weighing in on fighter safety, injuries, TRT and steroid issues, I thought it might be refreshing to get the input of a professional that actually works with MMA athletes. It also helps that I work for Dr. Kessler, which allows me to get this valuable insight for our readers.
Stephie Daniels: Can you give some background on what you do and how you got into treating combat sports athletes?
Dr. Kessler: I'm a chiropractor and I do a lot of sports rehabilitation and physical therapy. I grew up in Pittsburgh and later transplanted to Huntington Beach, which was pretty much the hotbed when I got out of school. At that time, Coach Oyama, who was a friend of mine, was coaching Tito Ortiz and Ricco Rodriguez, and they became my first patients. That led to Quinton Jackson and a slew of other fighters. I couldn't think of a group of guys that needed my services more than these athletes.
Stephie Daniels: What's your current client list like?
Dr. Kessler: Lorenz Larkin was in today, along with Arnold "Irish" Dewitt from Empire MMA. Some of our clinic regulars are Rampage, Mauricio Rua, Cheick Kongo, Michael Bisping, Giva Santana, Shane Del Rosario, Ian McCall, Spencer Fisher. The list is long and I'm sure I'll miss people, so I'll stop there.
Stephie Daniels: So many of the fighters I talk to are taking up new age therapies and techniques to maintain top physical condition. One that particularly drew my interest was that Joe Rogan mentioned that after a shoulder and back injury he sustained, he had cold laser therapy, which he said did wonders to heal him rapidly. Talk a little about this treatment.
Dr. Kessler: Cold laser is amazing. In layman's terms, it repairs tissue using low level lasers. It will literally remove or drastically improve bruising in about 10 minutes. It's incredible.
Stephie Daniels: You treat several active UFC fighters. Would you say that you've seen a rise in the incident rate of injury since Zuffa has instituted their fighter insurance policy?
Dr. Kessler: I think that's a misnomer, to be honest with you. I really believe that the sport has evolved. When I got out here in the '90s, we had wrestlers going against kickboxers who didn't really know any wrestling, or a jiu jitsu guy against a judo guy. Nobody was training in all aspects of MMA. Now, you have six year old kids going to MMA summer camps. I just think the level of competition in these kids that are coming up, well, there's no easy day at the office anymore.
Plus, with this fighter insurance, they have a $1500 deductible, just like a PPO. They're $1500 out of pocket unless they get injured in a fight. It's not like they can just go out and abuse their insurance plan.
Stephie Daniels: What are your thoughts on TRT?
Dr. Kessler: I am a firm believer in it, but I am not a firm believer in it for young guys. If your levels aren't low, I think it's foolish. It's cheating. The thing is, you can't put all these guys in one category. I know there's evidence that if you abused steroids early on, that may contribute to low levels, but there are other reasons, too. You'd really have to take it on a case by case, individual basis. Run the levels, get a history, see what's going on with their anatomy, and go from there. We do it in our office, but not for too many fighters. We've done it on a few, but we're strict with our testing.
Stephie Daniels: Can you tell me the criteria for the testing?
Dr. Kessler: I have a specialist that's certified in hormone replacement therapy that works out of my practice. We have two scripts that we run, and one is more detailed than the other. That one is for the athletes that have to answer to an athletic commission. We're not just running testosterone and IGF. We also check for hormone binding agents and other things. We run bloodwork, not urine, three times a week.
These are labs that are done while the patient is fasting, and they are drawn before 9 am. For the regular, average non athlete, we run their labs once, but for the athletes, they get drawn and run three times a week. There can be no risk for error. You cannot be above a 6:1 ratio.
Stephie Daniels: With a 6:1 ratio, what age category does it put that man's levels?
Dr. Kessler: Well, 6:1 is the accepted level (edited to add "by the commission" which is what he was referring to), so I'd say it puts the level at about what a 28-30 year old man should have.
Stephie Daniels: Do you feel that steroids can be a contributing factor to some injuries?
Dr. Kessler: In some cases, yes. I mean, we can't group all these together in one pile. If you abused steroids when you were younger, it will affect your testosterone level, and it will also affect your joints. Are there people slipping through the cracks? Probably. I am not a believer in steroids. Testosterone is naturally occurring in your body, but Winstrol and that other stuff is terrible, in my opinion.
Patients that have used those type steroids in the past become very rigid, they're very hard to adjust, and generally see joint deterioration faster than normal. They get big and look great for a few of years, but it's not a lasting effect, especially once you stop taking them. I am not a believer in them at all.
Stephie Daniels: One popular opinion revolves around the guys that don't abuse steroids, are trying to train at the insane pace of the guys that are using them. Would you agree that might be a percentage of some injuries?
Dr. Kessler: Well, you're always going to have that percentage of people, whether you're talking baseball, football, or any kind of sport, that believe if you're not cheating, you're not trying. It all comes down to the integrity of the individual. I'm sure it does happen.
Stephie Daniels: What are the injuries that you see most?
Dr. Kessler: Knees, shoulders, necks, backs. It varies a good bit. It's kind of ironic that today, I had several fighters in, and three of them had knee issues. All three were MCLs. MCLs are quite common. MCL and medial meniscus, but the good thing is, these are the lighter knee injuries. All you fighters out there, if you have one of these injuries, be glad it's the inside of the knee. It's the only one that will heal itself.
Stephie Daniels: You provide non-injury related services to these athletes, as well. Body maintenance services, if you will. What are the most common therapies you offer to the guys that aren't injured and are just trying to stay in top shape?
Dr. Kessler: Kinesio tape, cold laser for minor bruises, deep tissue massage. I have three therapists that are just there to do deep tissue massage. It's not exactly pleasant, but it is effective. I'd say that 40% of them just come in for a quick adjustment.
Stephie Daniels: If you could offer a piece of training advice to athletes, what would it be?
Dr. Kessler: Concentrate on diet and nutrition, and always warm up before a hard session of training. You need to warm up. Do not just jump into a class. You need to stretch and you need to warm up. That's where I see most of my injuries. People are rushing, maybe they were running late, they went in to train, didn't warm up properly, and popped something in the first 10 minutes.
Another piece of advice, and this goes for everyone, not just the fighters. If you get injured, and you can't see a physician, keep ice packs in your freezer. Give it a rest, use ice, compression and elevation until you can see a professional. Ice is one of the best methods to start the healing process and reduce swelling. It's as simple as that for non emergent injuries. Obviously you want to see a physician ASAP, but these steps will help in a pinch.
Follow Dr. Kessler via his Twitter, @OCFIGHTDOCS
Disclaimer: Dr. Kessler is not an advertiser on Bloody Elbow and this is not a sponsored post.