Vikings researching rash of pectoral injuries

The Vikings have been hit hard by pectoral injuries in the last year, but they are researching how to better prevent them.

In the NFL, when things go bad the hope is that it is a random incident that isn’t repeated. The more often it is repeated, the closer it comes to being a trend, and bad trends in the NFL are brutal.

The Vikings have found themselves in the strange situation of having a rash of pectoral injuries. Last season, starting offensive linemen Phil Loadholt and Brandon Fusco were both knocked out of the lineup with pectoral tears. During the OTAs, defensive end Brian Robison suffered a pectoral injury while lifting weights. At minicamp, Josh Robinson fell and suffered a pectoral tear. When it comes to the Vikings and pectoral injuries, it would appear the hits just keep on coming.

At Sunday’s training camp practice, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said the team has been digging deeper into the causes and prevention of pectoral injuries because, whether by design or just dumb luck, the Vikings have been and continue to be getting hit hard by an injury that isn’t all that common.

“I’ve had our strength coach research, I have our trainer research,” Zimmer said. “We’ve sat down and talked about all these different things – what causes pectoral injuries, what we can do to prevent them and what we can do to help.”

The problem with trying to diagnose the causes of pectoral injuries is that there are different schools of thought. Some believe they are random injuries that just happen like hamstring pulls. Others are convinced it is the weight training that may be a factor in it. Zimmer said he’s been taking in all the information he is receiving and trying to determine the best course for taking preventative steps.

“We’ve monitored a lot of things,” Zimmer said. “A lot of people have told us it’s just a freak play (that causes them). Sometimes when we’re bench pressing, if a guy bounces (the weight) off his chest, that’s where they get the tears. We’re going to work on strengthening the rotator cuffs much more than we have. We’re going to warm up better than what we have. We’ve addressed that.”

One area that the Vikings have honed in on as a potential contributing factor is how they attack weightlifting and weight training. While three of the four pec-related injuries to Vikings starters have happened on the field, there is a component of the workout and training regimen that is coming into play and is going to be one of the first areas addressed.

The Vikings have added an extra strength coach for training camp to monitor and assist players in their lifting, but the frustrating part for Zimmer is that the information gathering process hasn’t pointed to a specific area that can be isolated as the primary culprit.

“Pectoral injuries are more of an unusual injury,” Zimmer said. “You have to figure it out. Sometimes when you’re benching and you get a pec (twinge) you have a strong surface (beneath you). But when we’re out on the field, you don’t have anything behind to hold you back. I’ve talked to the guys who had these injuries and asked them if they were fatigued at the time. I’ve asked them what set they were on if they were benching at that particular time. Most of them have happened on the field.”

It was the Robinson injury that ramped up the Vikings’ researching process. While the injuries to Loadholt and Fusco last season and Robison this spring could all be directly attributed to the kind of man-on-man warfare that goes on in the trenches or the muscle injuries that can take place when weightlifting, Robinson’s injury was the one the perked up Zimmer’s ears because it just came out of the blue without an easily explained cause.

“That was kind of the straw the broke the camel’s back right there,” Zimmer said. “That was kind of a freak one, too. He fell on it.”

Robinson started training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list. His timeline to return to practices is undetermined. Loadholt and Fusco appear ready to go fully at practices, while Robison, the defensive end, says he is close to 100 percent but isn’t sure he will be taking full reps once the pads go on.

The Vikings are looking to err on the side of caution, but they’re not going to completely overhaul their strength and conditioning program. Instead, Zimmer said the early focus is going to be on highlighting the areas around the pectoral muscles that can be strengthened in hopes of alleviating some of the pressure on pectoral muscles.

“We’re not changing how we’re lifting, we’re changing the preparation of how we’re lifting and some of the areas that we’re trying to strengthen more,” Zimmer said. “The rotator cuff seems to be key. From the information I’ve gathered, the rotator cuff, if you’re strong in that area and strong in other areas around the pec that helps to keep those things from happening.”

It seems clear that the Vikings are trying to address a problem that they aren’t positive what is the cause and what can be used as preventative measures to keep them from continuing to happen.

In the NFL, when things continue to happen over and over again, it goes from the realm of being a fluke to being a trend, and the Vikings are trying to find ways to keep their current rash of pectoral injuries from remaining a trend that continues to knock key players from both sides of the ball out of the lineup.

Only time and more information-gathering will determine whether there is something organizationally that can be done to stem the tide of pec injuries, whether they can be prevented or if they’re just something that the Vikings have unfortunately been hit with that are random and can’t be fully prevented. Any of those possibilities may end up being the ultimate conclusion of the Vikings’ medical research, but Zimmer said the team is going to continue to push to find potential causes and, if possible, find solutions to minimize the potential for more players being lost to this growing injury concern.

“Sometimes these injuries can happen,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know if they’re preventable, but it’s my job and our responsibility to look at every possible way that we can’t have those.”

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