Q & A with Nuggets Trainer Jim Gillen

In 14 seasons with the Denver Nuggets, and over two decades in the field, Gillen has treated just about every athletic injury imaginable. Gillen currently serves as the Chairman on the Executive Board of the NBA Athletic Trainers Association. Additionally, he is a recipient of the National Athletic Trainers Association 25 Year Award, as well as the 2002 Joe O'Toole NBA Athletic Trainer of the Year Award. Gillen was also selected to be an assistant on the Western Conference training staff for the 1995 NBA All-Star Weekend and was a trainer for USA Basketball at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis.

Needless to say, when Nuggets.com wanted to give our readers some background information about the injuries the Nuggets have recently been suffering from, we knew exactly who to turn to. Nuggets.com Correspondent Dan Tolzman recently had a chance to sit down with Gillen and discuss a couple of the injuries that have plagued the Nuggets so far this season.

Hi Jim. Thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to chat with Nuggets.com. For starters, can you describe for our readers what it is that you do with the Denver Nuggets?

"I am the head athletic trainer for the Nuggets. Basically, it is my job to oversee the medical care of the players. I deal with everything from treatment of injuries to physicians, consultants and all of those types of things. And I’m also responsible for team travel, setting up the team charter, hotels, buses and other things when we travel on the road."

Okay, well we’re going to focus on the training aspect of your position for the sake of this interview. So far this season, it seems as if the Nuggets have kind of caught the injury-bug, is this common?

"Well, I’m not sure that we’ve had that many extra injuries so far. It’s just more of a situation where we’ve had more injuries to a specific position. In other words, all of our centers and bigger guys have all come down with 2 or 3 injuries at one time, instead of being spread out throughout the year."

It seems like the most common injury so far has been a strained hamstring. Can you somewhat describe what that particular injury consists of?

"Anytime you strain a muscle, whether it be a hamstring, a quad or a calf, you tear some of the muscle fibers, and it just takes a little time for the fibers to heal. It all depends on how much you tear to determine how significant the strain is."

Before you start losing me with all your medical jargon, could you just quickly describe what the hamstring actually does?

"The hamstring is the group of muscles in the back of the thigh that is attached to the hip and femur, which is the big bone, and also the tibia. Their job is basically knee flexion and running."

So, a strained hamstring affects a player’s ability to run?

"Very much so. When you’re running, anytime you’re getting ready to explode, the hamstings and glut muscles are the most important muscles in the body. The hamstring is very important because it’s the actual propulsion stage of running. When you stride and pull back, the hamstring is the muscle responsible for the actual pulling back of the leg and the bending of the knee, so it’s a vital part of running."

Gillen (right) and Sparky Gonzales help Voshon
Lenard off the court on 11/2/04.
(Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

What would you recommend players, of all ages and skill levels, do to prevent hamstring injuries in the future?

"The key is to keep your hamstrings stretched out, and make sure that you warm-up before every game. It’s very important with the hamstring, or any kind of muscles in the leg and back area, that you keep your core and abdominal (stomach) muscles strong. In other words, muscle balance. You can’t get your quadriceps, which are in the front of your leg, too strong because they will begin to overpower the hamstrings. Muscle imbalance is usually what causes most muscle injuries."

In general, how much rehab is necessary in regards to a strained hamstring?

"We do lots of modalities (such as ultrasound, muscle stimulation, massage, stretching). We also do lots of conditioning and strengthening exercises in the weight room. Then, once they get the hamstring back strong and get through the soreness and the tenderness of it, then they start to do functional activities on the court (such as cutting, running “s” patterns, running backwards). After that, the next stage would be to start doing basketball drills and hope to get back to full-fledge practice and games."

On average, how long of a process is this rehab?

"That all depends on the severity of the strain, as well as the player. Nenê, for example, is a little tighter bound muscle-wise and more of a sprinter-type/explosive-type of player. In addition to having a pretty bad strain, it will take him a little longer to heal because of his style of play."

That is all extremely interesting, not to mention extremely insightful. On a slightly different note, how is Voshon Lenard doing since having surgery on his torn Achilles tendon?

"Everything is looking good. He had his cast removed today, and he’ll be in a little splint for about another week. Then, once the splint is off, he’ll be in a walking cast, which means he can start working on range of motion and strengthening exercises in the lower leg and ankle area. After that, it’s on to balance activities, followed by functional running, and ultimately basketball drills."

Seeing that it’s a pretty serious injury, how long will Vo’s rehab most likely last?

"It’s probably a minimum of six months. It just depends, once again, on the athlete and things of that nature."

Well Jim, I think that about does it. Thanks for all your insight; I’m sure our reader’s will definitely enjoy it.

"No problem Dan. It was my pleasure."

Hopefully I won’t need to be in here interviewing you about anymore injuries this season.

"You said it!"