National Football League (NFL) games are exciting, and they can be brutal. No matter how coordinated and logistical the plays, the naturally aggressive nature of the sport leaves athletes at constant risk of injury. The physicality of the game, pitting prime players in their peak of human performance, will inevitably lead to acute and chronic injury.
It’s a long and grueling season in the NFL, and teams rely on team doctors to keep their players in top shape, treat injuries and offer medical guidance and care. For the Carolina Panthers, that physician is Dr. Pat Connor. A fellowship-trained sports medicine surgeon, OrthoCarolina's Dr. Connor works with the team year-round, and preseason care is of special importance. He offered a peek behind the scenes at how he stays in the zone amid so much action going into the season.
When you go to Panther’s training camp, what is a typical day like for you?
Dr. Connor: I usually work at OrthoCarolina in the morning, seeing patients or doing other work, and head down to training camp in the early afternoon.
If training camp practice is in the afternoon I'm on hand if any injuries occur during that time. For morning practices I arrive later to see any players who may have had injuries or issues during the early session. I’ll also check on players who have ongoing and chronic issues including those sustained earlier in camp. Post-practice I see players in the training room and my office with the athletic training staff.
At training camp is care mostly focused on preventative care, or are you treating existing injuries?
Dr. Connor: Care centers primarily on treating either existing injuries or injuries that occur in "real-time" at camp. However, there are a lot of preventative efforts as well. We take the same preventative measures at camp as we do throughout the year; taping of ankles, pads, helmets, shoe wear modifications to avoid foot and ankle injuries, and more. Heat and the prevention of heat illness and heat stroke are huge issues in football, especially for our team. Spartanburg in summer can be extremely hot; we've seen the heat index climb to 119 degrees. Thankfully, over the years that we've been in Spartanburg, we have yet to have a player with heat illness.
Then there are common and routine conditions that we treat; muscle cramps, weight loss due to water loss and others. But we as an organization and medical team are proud of the fact that the processes we have in place have kept players safe from true heat illness and heatstroke in such a hot environment.
What are some of the most common injuries or conditions you see pre-season?
Dr. Connor: The most common injuries at camp include (but certainly aren't limited to) hamstring strains, ankle sprains, calf strains, groin strains, lacerations, knee injuries, stingers, cramps, etc. But we're set up to handle anything that comes up . . .
How is working with professional NFL players different than other patients?
Dr. Connor: NFL players are highly motivated people who play a significant role in their own health and well-being. They understand injuries and work hard to overcome them. As a whole, NFL athletes are appreciative of their medical teams’ efforts in helping prevent and treat their injuries because they know and understand how crucial the care is. Really, their attitude is just like the other patients I see in my clinics who want to get better; they want to understand what’s wrong and how they can help speed along the healing process.
Are you a Panthers fan?
Dr. Connor: I think like most fans, I would like to see the Panthers win every game they play. Through the nature of my job I interact very closely with Panthers players, athletic trainers, staff and front office personnel on a nearly daily basis and I see firsthand how hard they work to achieve success. However, I don't think I'm a fan in the truest sense of the word mainly because I always maintain the perspective that I am at the games to be a team physician…not a fan. I am there to diagnose and treat any injuries that may occur with players because that is my job. I personally think this is an important perspective to maintain so I am always focused on being a physician and doing what is right for each player/patient who may have an injury regardless of the score or circumstances of a game.
Dr. Patrick Connor, MD is fellowship-trained in sports medicine and shoulder/elbow, and his clinical specialties are sports medicine, shoulder/elbow and trauma. He is the head team physician for the Carolina Panthers, the Charlotte Knights, Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, Providence Day School and is on the editorial board and a consultant for the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery and the American Journal of Sports Medicine.