Aitken goes to extreme measures to tackle injury curse
St George Illawarra Dragons centre Euan Aitken has gone to extreme measures to counteract ongoing hamstring issues, undergoing an off-season epidural to correct the issue.
Many athletes suffer repeated hamstring problems due to back issues and for Aitken, the injection in his spine looks to address the neural link between back tightness and hamstring strains.
Most commonly associated with the delivery of pain relief to women in childbirth or treating lower back pain, epidurals – the medical administration of a drug into the epidural space of the spinal cord – are becoming more common in treating athletes with chronic hamstring injuries.
Aitken is on track to feature in round one having also undergone a shoulder reconstruction following his round 24 shoulder dislocation suffered against the Brisbane Broncos.
"I've gotten on top of shoulder rehab and it's tracking along nicely, I'll be starting to transition into a bit of defence soon," Aitken told NRL.com.
"Hopefully I'll be in full training by January. The hammy issues, I got an epidural [in late November], it's a work in progress, I don't know whether it's going to work for me or not but over the next couple of weeks we'll see how that progresses as well."
Aitken said the mechanism of the epidural treatment is "a complicated process".
"It's a lot to do with the neural system and how it affects the hamstring," he said.
"If your back's tight and it's inflamed it can send spasms to your hamstring so your muscles tighten up around it.
"It's a bit of a complicated process, that's as much as I know about it but there's a lot of track records that show improvements in reoccurrence of hamstring injuries so I'm hoping that works for me.
"[There have been] a lot in the AFL, there's a lot of hamstring issues obviously in the AFL. That's the road they've taken to try and fix their hamstring issues so I'm hoping it works for me."
Aitken said his early field sessions following the treatment had shown no ill-effects.
However, he did reveal his disappointment and not being able to represent Scotland in what turned out to be something of an ill-fated World Cup campaign for an injury-ravaged squad missing close to a full Test line-up in NRL and Super League talent.
"A lot of players from Scotland had to miss out on the World Cup for personal reasons or injury," Aitken said.
"It felt like if we did get our full side out there we probably could have done a lot better. We nearly came away with a win [against Samoa], we nearly made the quarter-finals but I feel like if our better side was there we would have been more of a challenge to the top nations.
"There was a lot of NRL talent that missed out and a few from the Super League that weren't able to play. Credit to them, they had the draw with Samoa and probably should have won so it was a credit to the boys that played that game and finished the tournament on a high.
Aitken's immediate goals mostly revolve around getting his body right following the dual injuries that robbed him of a World Cup berth but beyond that, hopes to improve both on and off the ball for the Red V next season.
"Injury is a priority, getting the shoulder right and as strong as possible," he said.
"I want to work on my defence more and let the attack come as well, there's a lot of improvements to be made at the Dragons and we've got the systems in place to make the improvements.
"With some quality players coming, James Graham and Ben Hunt, that will add to the side and make the side better. I think it's going to be big things for the Dragons come 2018."