Rehabs and Rebounds for WNBA Center Jayne Appel

The East Bay professional ups her game with phenomenal personal drive and a little guiding help from MOS physical therapists

MOS Patient, Jayne AppelJust before the WNBA 2013 season opener, San Antonio Silver Stars center and East Bay native Jayne Appel told a reporter at Media Day that she had been working hard during the off season to be ready to play.

“I was doing rehab, always rehabbing my knee—I like to call it prehab,” said Appel about strengthening her knee from previous injury. “And I had a little wrist rehab to do this off season. I had a pretty small procedure done on it, but I’m recovering well.” She went on to say that defense would be the key to the Silver Stars’ season.

Defense is a strong suit for the former Carondelet High School star. Appel, a WNBA All Star as a rookie, broke the Pac-10 rebounding record while at Stanford where she was a two-time All American. And like many pro basketball players she’s also broken and banged up various body parts competing for rebounds, stuffing shots and posting up.

And that “prehab” she referred to doing on her knee? That’s another aspect of Appel’s defense, a part of her game she picked up at Muir Orthopaedic Specialists.

“I learned prehab, which is doing rehab before you even go into surgery, making the muscles as strong as possible, at Muir,” says Appel. “Everyone knows that after surgery there’s swelling, muscle atrophy, and other negative effects. So doing things before surgery to minimize that is important—and also continuing to do them after surgery, it has to be part of your routine of performing. That’s definitely something the physical therapists at Muir taught me.”

Appel is, unfortunately, no stranger to rehab and no stranger to MOS. She’s been there for four injuries. “All different body parts,” says Appel. “I know everybody there.”

Her wrist, injured in Chinese league play, was newly rehabbed at MOS. With luck, she’ll stay away for a while, preferably on her way to a WNBA championship. But Appel has a pro athlete’s attitude toward injury.

“You can’t avoid injuries. They’re going to happen at this level. But you can give your body more hope for staying healthier and you can recover from an injury faster,” says Appel. “Sleep is a huge part of recovery, and so is eating right—especially in lower body injuries where you aren’t able to train like you used to.”

Proper eating and sleeping habits are two things she stresses when she speaks before high school students about training. Simple pieces of advice that are very important to an age group notorious for getting little sleep but eating lots of junk food. Better nutrition and better rest mean a stronger, more alert body that can perform better and avoid injury. But when an injury occurs—and Appel knows she’ll see another one—what’s the best way to rebound from it?

“The trick to rehabbing is listening to your physical therapist. So many athletes try to push through the pain, and that’s a big mentality in sports, that if you have that mental toughness you can play through anything,” says Appel. “I’m guilty of that first hand.”

In her senior year at Stanford, she broke a bone in her foot and played through it. Appel essentially finished out the season on one leg and in pain, mentally aggravated by a disappointing Stanford loss in the 2010 NCAA championship game to Connecticut.

“That was what I had been trained to do—it’s what I wanted to do—play through the pain,” says Appel. “It took me almost double the amount of time to come back from that injury. That’s why I think the trick to rehabbing is listening to your therapist and allowing your body the time to rehab. Rehab is not to be rushed.”

Professional pride

When Appel is on TV taking it to the hoop for 2 over WNBA foes, Kent Mercer can’t help but feel a little pride. He’s a big fan. And he’s worked with Appel on rehabilitation from injuries since she was in high school. So Mercer, director of Sports Medicine Rehab at MOS, has a certain professional stake in her performance.

“There’s great satisfaction in watching her play, and in seeing her get back to what she can do,” says Mercer. “It’s that way with all patients, from high school players to weekend athletes to pros. You have to understand them, what their goals are and where they hope to be.”

Appel constantly wants to be better at what she does. And she strives for that in the context of knowing that her body has limits, that her joints are only going to last so long taking the pounding of a professional athlete. Her wisdom about her limitations and her self-driven nature make her a joy for a physical therapist to work with.

“Instead of motivating an athlete like Jayne, you almost have to hold her back,” says Mercer. “Jayne will listen to everything you say; do it; process it; and come back with questions and concerns. She’ll say, ‘Okay give me more.’ I have to find that balance of pushing her and holding her back that will help her get to a higher level. She’ll make you be a better therapist.”

Appel has gone through two knee rehabilitations at MOS, each time with great results. She measures that by the fact that she has returned to action and felt like herself playing, which was Mercer’s goal for her, too. But professional athletes and their physical therapists don’t always mesh so well.

“I have friends who are professional athletes who are struggling to get one joint back in shape, and they’re butting heads with their therapists,” says Appel. “But everyone at Muir is open to hearing your thoughts on physical therapy, which is very important for pro athletes. I want to know where I am today, where I want to be tomorrow, and how I get there.”

Appel has a solid reputation as a team player and is considered to be the best passing post player in the game. That team approach is what keeps her coming back to Muir, where she says the physical therapists work as a team—a friendly, welcoming and challenging team driven to get her body back to top performance.

“I really enjoy going to see them, to be comfortable in that atmosphere and to perform my exercises with a feeling of trust. That comes from knowing that all the physical therapy specialists there trust each other in what they are doing,” says Appel. “The fact that they are so close and treat each person with such professional care means a lot to someone like me whose job is my body.”