The road to the Super Bowl is fraught with neck spasms, aching legs and sore hamstrings. But when the Giants head west to Indianapolis, Dr. Rob DeStefano will be there to smooth out those pulled muscles and stiff necks.
A member of the team’s elite medical staff for more than a decade, the Hackensack-based chiropractor is making his second trip to the Super Bowl with Big Blue. He was there when the 2007-2008 team brought home the world title, and says this team is cut from the same fabric.
“This group rivals them,” he told NBC New York. “They’re all friends, they have dinner together, there’s a lot of interaction off the field, which I think is why they mesh so well. And the coach brings it all together. He’s very humble.”
DeStefano started treating individual players more than 20 years ago, but in 2002, when former Giants Amani Toomer and Tiki Barber became regular patients, he was introduced to the team’s head trainer, Ronnie Barnes.
Soon after, he was invited to work with the entire team.
“I’m just a piece of the puzzle,” he says. “The medical staff at the Giants is the best in the world, top-notch. We work together as a team on the medical side. All our egos are put aside. It's about getting the player back on the field, however we can do that.”
Often, the doctors have less than two minutes to assess an injury, treat it and get the player back in the game.
“There’s a peril and a potential injury for each player," says DeStefano. "If you’re a defensive back, it’s upper body because you’re hitting hard with your shoulders and neck. If you’re a lineman, a lot of it can be lower extremities because you’re pushing and the legs are prone to injury and hamstring issues.
"I have a very specific requirement that I fulfill," he says. "They come get me if someone has a neck or hamstring or lower back or shoulder injury.”
They don’t have to go far to find him. He paces the sidelines between two posts so that the athletes can always spot him.
Sometimes he can treat them on the bench, but he also has a table on the sidelines at all times. The pregame is actually his busiest time – loosening up the players, getting them ready and making sure their muscles are functioning as they should be.
”The challenge is because they’re such elite athletes, we have to make sure they’re working efficiently," says DeStefano. "And a lot of the treatments are not necessarily for major injuries. It’s more fine-tuning a machine to make sure it works well.”
DeStefano credits his revolutionary approach to muscle repair to keeping Big Blue fit for the field.
The premise of the treatment, detailed in his New York Times-bestselling book “Muscle Medicine,” is focusing on “what’s wrong with the muscle pulling on the bone, and when we can restore the muscle back to full health, then the bone moves properly and the joints work effectively.”
He calls it the “pin and stretch” technique: “if you shorten the muscle, pin the muscle, then lengthen the muscle, you can stretch the muscle,” he says.
DeStefano played football himself and competes in decathlons as well. He’s worked with athletes most of his career, including Olympic bobsled and women’s hockey teams. But he downplays the thrill of adding a second Super Bowl ring to his trophy room.
“It’s amazing to be back and I’m excited to see what this one will bring, but if you allow yourself to get caught up in the hype, you can miss your purpose and what you’re trying to accomplish," he says. "I’m just doing my part for the team, to go out there and win the game. I think they’re feeling pretty confident about that, but I don’t want to jinx it and talk about it beforehand. I’ll just say we’ll go out and do our best.”