RICE & MICE: Is it really the Flu?

“A team without energy, if the physical part is there, the mental part goes, and there was just nothing yesterday. I think we were drained. To get a day off, even though it’s under the toughest of circumstances and a tough loss like that, I really feel that the benefits will be seen on Tuesday by not having to mentally and physically come in to the rink.”

The comments above are those of Peter Laviolette when asked about his decision to give his team the day off following their 7-0 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers.

He may be onto something here.

The Flyers are reported to be hampered by the flu circulating in the locker room. Since February 18th the 4 Flyers – Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe – have all missed at least one game due to flu symptoms.  Flu season generally starts in November and can last through April – perfect timing to wreak havoc on any NHL roster. On the other hand, the stretch run of the 2010 postseason shortened the offseason for the Flyers and since the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, they have seemed driven toward achieving exactly what they fell short of  last June.

Is it the flu or are the Flyers showing signs of overtraining and burnout?

Flu symptoms tend to show up rather suddenly and without notice.  Most people will say they feel like they were hit by a truck. There is a sudden onset of headache, fatigue, weakness, and body aches and fever. There is usually a dry, hacking cough. With some flu viruses, namely H1N1, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also common symptoms and sometimes fever is lower or not present. Flu symptoms last up to one week, but fatigue may last for a few weeks.  Exercise is generally not recommended at all when ill with the flu.

The body needs all the energy it can get in order to fuel the immune system and allow it to do its job. Athletes tend to suffer from viral illnesses much more often that the average person and is, in part, due to the stress that training has on the immune system.

If the immune system is overwhelmed the body is susceptible to infection of any kind. Physical, mental and emotional stress can dampen an otherwise healthy immune systems. Dehydration can also weaken the body’s natural defenses when the mucous membranes are dry. The flu is more easily spread from person to person than the common cold. Airborne water droplets can transmit the virus from sneezing, coughing and even simple conversations. Hands and inanimate objects may also provide transmission of the virus from one person to the next.

Incubation time or the time that it takes for an infected person to develop symptoms is anywhere from 1-4 days (possibly longer), therefore people may not know they are ill or contagious. People with the flu remain contagious for another 5-7 days, regardless of symptoms severity or presence of fever.

Vomiting and diarrhea pose a separate issue when a person is battling the flu, but especially so in athletes. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to a state of dehydration as well as electrolyte disturbances. The state of malnutrition that this can cause may also lead to a loss of muscle mass and weight. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can cause a lack of endurance, muscle cramping, headache, dizziness and weakness.

Prevention is important.  A typical flu vaccine will provide immunity to the most common strains of flu that are predicted for a particular season. The 2010-2011 vaccine also includes the H1N1 strain that was so prevalent last year. It may take up to 7 weeks to establish immunity following a flu vaccine so vaccines should be given before the season commences if possible or during a break in the season, so the athlete has adequate rest.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer was a staple at the autograph tables and photo booths at the Flyers Wives Carnival on February 27th. Adequate nutrition and rest are also key elements in avoiding infection with the flu; as is avoidance of contact with anyone that has flu-like symptoms. Alcohol consumption may also weaken the immune system, so this should be avoided.

Avoidance is also important. Consider the flu-stricken hockey player out on the ice, possibly coughing, almost assuredly spitting and wiping their nose, possibly blowing their nose and touching water bottles and equipment. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer and surgical face masks aren’t considered a necessary item on most player benches. Players with symptoms should be held out of practice and competition and should be eased back into activity rather than a sudden return to competition. Remember, these players are contagious for a week, so this may not be a popular or favorable option for some teams, but the benefit may be nipping the spread of the flu in the bud, so to speak.

Moderate levels of exercise are considered good for the immune system, but more is not always better. Long (2 or more hours) training sessions and absence of recovery days during heavy training or competition – more so than the level of intensity of training or competition – can raise the risk of developing overtraining syndrome and/or increase the susceptibility to illness. Mental and emotional stress can also have an impact on the body’s physical health and these should not be overlooked.  When the physical toll on the body exceeds the body’s ability to repair itself, overtraining symptoms may begin in a rather subtle manner and is often overlooked.

When burnout or overtraining occurs, there are often signs of regression in performance, endurance and strength. The regression in performance, rather than progression, especially say, at the tail-end of a long 82 game season, is often overlooked or mistaken for a lack of conditioning and effort.

Coaching staff may attempt to push their players even harder to no avail. In the wake of the negative performance implications of overtraining, lies the risk of developing an overtraining syndrome.

Physically, a player may experience: increased susceptibility to colds, flu’s and infections as stated previously, increases in minor injuries, chronic muscle soreness or joint pain, exhaustion, lethargy, weight loss, appetite loss, thirst or dehydration, decreased capacity to exercise, easily fatigued during exercise, decreased level of performance, and delayed recovery from exercise.

There are psychological implications of overtraining and these may include feeling fatigued, tired or drained, reduced ability to concentrate, apathy or difficulty finding motivation, irritability, symptoms of anxiety and depression, oversensitivity to criticism, increasing indolence, headaches, insomnia, irritability, defiance and can predispose a locker room to internal conflict and turmoil, whether amongst teammates or between coaching staff and teammates.

A look back at the initial 3/4 of the season reminds us that the Flyers had one 3-game losing streak October 14-21 against Tampa, Pittsburgh and Anaheim, respectively and one 3-game skid November 26-December 1, where they lost in a shootout to Calgary, had a shootout loss to New Jersey and lost to Boston. There were 2 other instances where the Flyers lost 2 in a row. The rest of the losses this season have been single occurances and the Flyers have consistently answered a loss with a win.

There is obviously something much different going on for the last 4 games. With the exception of seeing a glimpse of the Flyers from earlier this season in the first period against the Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers have looked sluggish, tired and frustrated. The common perception is that they are on autopilot, expecting to cruise through the end of the regular season. In the last week they have been called lazy, cocky, unmotivated, careless, lackadaisical, and every variation and synonym for terrible that exists.

During the final 4-day break of the regular season, Laviolette pushed the team through a few intense and grueling practices prior to disappointing losses to Toronto and Buffalo and the shellacking at the hands of the Rangers.  The Flyers were obviously not responding as they did earlier in the season. The weren’t responding as Laviolette expected.

If we break it down and look at the individual players, there have been mental mistakes and mistakes from lack of focus aplenty. Turnovers have been abundant and the number of penalties has increased pointing toward a mounting frustration level.

Players who have been strong on the puck in the recent past are handily knocked of the puck without much effort. The veteran stalwarts on defense have, at times, looked lost. The penalty killing units are being taxed as a result of the increasing number of penalties taken and the power play has looked powerless all season, but never more so than the past few games.

Laviolette has placed the blame on himself for the loss to the Rangers:

“We still could play better, don’t get me wrong. Yesterday they didn’t have the pop we needed. It was like we were moving slow out there. If I am being honest, I have to take one hundred percent responsibility for what happened yesterday. We came into the month of March and we wanted to push. We pushed hard for three days and will continue to push hard, but yesterday I think we felt the effects of that. We came in and we didn’t have the jam that we needed to play a team that had plenty of it…There was no pop out there.”

Is a day off for this Flyers team just what the doctor ordered? Let’s hope so.

Disclaimer: Information on found in RICE & MICE on flyersfaithful.com is not intended to be medical advice. Any information or materials posted on the web site are intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, medical opinion, diagnosis or treatment. Any information posted on the web site is NOT a substitute for medical attention. See your health-care professional for medical advice and treatment.

  • sonny lusch

    Everybody lies.

    It’s not cancer.

    • http://flyersfaithful.com Marcello D

      I thought everybody pooped.

  • sonny lusch

    Everybody lies.

    It’s not cancer.

    • http://flyersfaithful.com Marcello D

      I thought everybody pooped.