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Monday, May 20, 2024
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The Stephen M. Bennett Student Athlete Performance Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, photographed Feb. 6, 2024.

Packers seek injury treatment from a UW-Madison athletic health center

After sustaining serious hamstring injuries, both Eric Stokes and Christian Watson turned to the Badger Athletic Performance center to break down the root causes of their respective issues.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is reportedly donning a lab coat for injured NFL athletes.

Following hamstring injuries obtained during the NFL season, Packers wide receiver Christian Watson and cornerback Eric Stokes reportedly received treatment from UW-Madison’s Badger Athletic Performance (BAP) center. 

The treatment marked a change from the Packers’ usual injury treatment protocol, which often involves an in-house training staff led by head trainer Bryan Engel.

But Watson and Stokes reportedly choose BAP due to its work with muscle tendon injuries. The center has done countless research into muscle tendon injuries, which are one of BAP’s main active areas of research, according to the BAP website.

Recurring hamstring issues are a consistent problem among NFL players that organizations such as BAP are aiming research towards.

“Muscle-tendon injuries have some of the highest recurrence rates, with 30% or more of athletes sustaining a repeat injury,” the center’s website reads. 

In order to combat the high percentage of athletes facing recurring hamstring issues, BAP was awarded a $4 million grant from the NFL in July 2021. 

“To truly understand and reduce hamstring injury risk requires a study of an unprecedented size and scope,” Dr. Bryan Heiderscheit, BAP director, told the NFL. “Thanks to the commitment and funding support provided by the NFL, our multi-disciplinary team of researchers can now undertake an innovative, data-driven approach to this study and assist sports medicine clinicians in advancing strategies for injury prevention and interventions to return athletes to sport quickly and with reduced risk for re-injury."

Through the study of on-field sprinting mechanics, muscle strength and muscle/tendon structure, BAP aims to “identify modifiable risk factors for injury and re-injury” for muscle tendon injuries, according to the centers website. 

BAP is made of several experts within UW-Madison as well as UW Athletics staff, said Heiderscheit. 

“This joint venture between the [School of Medicine and Public Health] Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation and the UW Division of Intercollegiate Athletics facilitated a mutually beneficial partnership between the academic arm of the university and its internationally recognized athletic programs,” Heiderscheit told The Daily Cardinal. 

Using NFL funds, Heiderscheit and the rest of the BAP team focus on rehabilitating athletes such as Stokes and Watson, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

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“The Badger Athletic Performance group works with each individual athlete to discover what factors may be contributing to their own injury risk,” Heiderscheit said. “These may include the athlete’s injury history and training habits, movement biomechanics, neuromuscular performance and musculoskeletal tissue structure and morphology”. 

And Stokes is no stranger to injuries. 

In the 2022 NFL season, Stokes suffered a foot injury against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 6, followed by the need for surgery. After recovering from that injury, Stokes finally made his comeback in an Oct. 22, 2023 matchup against the Denver Broncos, according to Packers News. However, another hamstring injury struck just a few plays in.

“I knew immediately. The moment I tried to re-accelerate, I felt it. I was like, ‘Oh man, that’s a hamstring,” Stokes said in a Packers locker room interview. “I knew off the rip, where it was, how it was and all that stuff because I had so many hamstring issues”

Stokes said he hurt his left hamstring prior to his NFL career when he was in high school. 

BAP seeks to find and treat these recurring injuries.

“Badger Athletic Performance has a strong reputation of helping athletes and sporting organizations address their injury-related concerns,” Heiderscheit said. “Our goal is to provide them with unique information and insight that they otherwise would not have to help chart the best course of care.”

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