My un-spun thoughts on Tom Brady’s book, The TB12 Method

IMG_5957I have to start with this – I am a Tom Brady fan. His commitment to the game of football, his mental toughness, how he carries himself off the field – he is a superstar. I admire Alex Guerrero. I cannot even comprehend how much work went into not only the vision behind TB12 but also the effort it took to bring both the center and manual to fruition while still treating athletes. It’s very very impressive. In New England we’re lucky enough to watch something that has never happened in the game of football before – a Hall of Fame quarterback actually improving his game as he hit 40. It’s amazing.

I hope that you can understand that any criticism I may have of the information presented in The TB12 Method does not mean that I’m not a fan of Tom Brady or Alex Guerrero. I’ve never even met them.

I pre-ordered the book and ripped it open when it arrived from Amazon at 8am on Tuesday morning. I had put hours aside in my crazy doctor-mom schedule to read it – like, all of it. And I was excited! A training center filled with highly dedicated athletes and trainers, massage and Eastern medicine practices all integrated in one gorgeous facility. It’s a sports medicine dream. I didn’t approach reading this book like it was a joke, still don’t agree with people who call Guerrero a “snake oil salesman.” Clearly his methods work for some athletes, but they have always been shrouded in secrecy. The TB12 Method delivered on it’s promise to give us answers – we now know what Guerrero and Brady mean when they say “pliability” – and have pages of techniques to try to replicate it.

The place where the book fell short for me was evidence. Tom Brady, while a supra-human athlete/businessman/family man, is one person. The book had a section of personal stories and accolades from clients, but they are all individual cases — case studies. When I offer patients a treatment that I know has not been proven to work in peer-reviewed studies, I tell them. The problem with The TB12 Method is that it doesn’t give readers that option. It reads like a textbook, but includes both facts and unproven/untested ideas side-by-side. This does not mean that I think that Guerrero and Brady’s ideas about pliability are wrong! It means that initial trends of what they’re seeing in clients at TB12 look really promising. But they need to be tested. To date, there is no reported evidence that the TB12 form of pliability trains nerve cells to relax muscles in response to trauma and that this relaxation leads to fewer injuries. That needs to be proven.

Why? Here’s a short (I promise!) story from the world where I practice sports medicine. Achilles tendonitis was always thought to be inflammation of the tendon in the heel (“itis” means “inflammation” – swelling, heat, pain). Physical therapists worked to decrease the inflammation of the Achilles tendon with things like ice and rest and stretching. Only they noticed that patients weren’t always getting better – a bunch were, but not everybody. So they questioned what they were doing. They looked at samples of affected tendons under a microscope. It turned out that Achilles tendonitis isn’t inflammation at all! In fact, what they saw was that the body failed to inflame the tendon enough to promote the amount of blood flow needed to heal it. We were treating Achilles tendonitis in totally the wrong way! Now we know that we need to try to actually inflame the tendon through massage and promote blood flow through exercises and techniques to jumpstart a healing/inflammatory response. That was more than one study, completed in clinics and labs and reviewed by peers.

The thing is – we all felt pretty good about calling Achilles tendonitis (along with other tendon issues) inflammation! Scientists didn’t expect to see what they saw under the microscope. But by testing what the orthopedic community thought about injury, they learned something huge. Alex Guerrero really seems to have the spirit to do that. He’s already challenging commonly held beliefs with his ideas about changing post-operative recovery protocols. But just because Tom Brady was running on his ACL graft much earlier than the general population and did fine, doesn’t mean that MOST people will do fine.

What impressed me most about the book was Brady’s passion for training, preventing and treating injuries differently and his intention to make quality training accessible to everyone world-wide. I’m frustrated by the stories that he’s just pushing his products to make money after he retires. I don’t know him, but it’s very hard to read the book and not see that he truly believes in this stuff and wants to affect change on a broad level.

The TB12 Method is a beautiful book, but I applaud the work that went into it with reservation about the unproven content. I hope that TB12 is already setting up procedures to study their concepts and results, not only to prove that their methods work on broad numbers of patients but also to advance their (and our!) understanding of athletic injury and performance.

Footnote: I also can’t write this without pointing out that even exuberant hydration does NOT prevent sun damage. So please, don’t take Brady’s comments about not getting sunburned when he’s hydrated too seriously. WEAR SUNSCREEN!!


One Comment Add yours

  1. Elka Deede says:

    Well written review of a sure to be popular book. Do hope They take the critique seriously and follow through with needed proofs. Great Job Dr. Flynn!


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