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Q&A with Sports Physician, Jarrad van Zuydam

Nov 23, 2020

Jarrad Van Zuydam is a sports physician based in Johannesburg. He is an avid sportsman himself and has a special interest in endurance sport medicine.

Jarrad is also the former head team doctor for the Dimension Data pro cycling team (previously MTN Qhubeka) and is currently a team physician for UAE Team Emirates.

Run Life asked Jarrad a few questions about how to stay injury free and on the road.

Jarrad van Zuydam sports physician

What is the role of a sports physician in the injury recovery process?

Sports physicians take the leadership role in what should be a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to injury treatment. The treatment team might include physiotherapists, podiatrists, bio-kineticists, coaches, sports scientists, surgeons and more but usually the sports physician takes responsibility for making the diagnosis and then coordinating the treatment and rehabilitation process by the rest of the team.

What are the most common mistakes that you see runners making by the time they come and see you?

Leaving it too late. Overuse injuries such as runners’ knee and Achilles tendinopathy are far more difficult to treat the longer they have been ignored. Treating early makes the world of difference.

Refusing to rest. We hate telling runners not to run but for some injuries there is just no getting around it and some rest is required. Runners who disregard this advice and sneak in the odd run end up prolonging their recovery process.

Resting too much. The opposite can be true too. There are some injuries which respond poorly to rest and rather require specific loading exercises to promote healing.

Ramping up training load too quickly. We see this more often in less experienced runners. Sometimes the absolute training load is not the problem but rather the “ramp rate” or how quickly the training was increased week on week. This can apply to volume and intensity. Injuries like stress fractures and tendon injuries are almost always preceded by a period of rapid overload.

Getting a diagnosis from Bob down at the club or Dr Google. An accurate diagnosis is vital to ensure that an appropriate treatment plan is followed and to ensure that more serious diagnoses are not missed. Much time can be wasted trying to treat a condition that is not actually present.

Jarrad van Zuydam sports physician

Is there a secret to speeding up the injury healing process?

There isn’t, unfortunately, but there are certainly lots of ways in which you can slow it down. Poor nutrition, for example, is a sure-fire way to hamper your body’s ability to heal and recover. The body needs building blocks in order to rebuild and repair. Younger athletes definitely heal faster than older athletes so injury prevention becomes more and more important for the older athlete.

Runners are stubborn and have been known to run through flu or a cold. We’ve all heard the theory that as long as you can only feel the flu/cold from the shoulders up, then you can still run. Is that really true?

There is certainly some truth to the much quoted “neck check” but it isn’t foolproof. The main concern when running with an upper respiratory infection is the risk of worsening an undiagnosed viral myocarditis (inflammation of the heart). The presence of chest pain, palpitations, fever, body-aches, and chesty cough among others would all preclude running but when in doubt, a chat with a sports doc is safest.

Strength training is a pet hate for many runners, even though we know it’s important. What are the top exercises you’d recommend we focus on?

To get good value for the time you put in, choose predominantly lower body exercises which target multiple large muscle groups at the same time. Glutes, hammies, quads and calves should be the main focus and runners shouldn’t be shy to lift/push heavy once good form has been mastered. Different variations of squats and lunges are a good place to start.

Brute strength alone won’t get you through Comrades though so remember that stability is just as important as strength for runners. Those looking to work on speed might want to include exercises like box jumps and squat jumps once ready.

Running, especially endurance running, impacts the body in a number of ways. What are your best recovery tips?

All the fashionable recovery tricks like massage guns, compression garments, “super-foods”, ice baths, and  cupping (don’t even get me started on IV vitamin infusions) should be completely disregarded until a far more basic concept has been mastered: taking your rest as seriously or more seriously than your training. This means scheduling regular rest days and rest weeks and also prioritising the biggest recovery hack of them all: good quality sleep. Performance gains are made during rest, not during training. Stress your physiology, rest, repeat.

What is the best advice you could offer to runners to help them prevent injuries?

Have a plan! Working with a training plan is so vital but athletes also need to be mature and honest enough to ease off if they find they aren’t coping with the load. Rome wasn’t built in a day, fitness and performance gains can take a long time and it is important to remain patient. Having a training plan which includes hard days, easy days, rest days and a gradual build towards peak fitness helps to avoid panic training, overtraining or ramping up too quickly. Only once a solid plan is in place should athletes start fretting about the intricacies of injury prevention like equipment, technique, terrain etc.

Read more about Jarrad van Zuydam in practice here or follow him on social media:

Twitter – @JarradVZ

Instagram – @jarradvz

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