Meet the doctor who revitalized Orioles’ Anthony Santander’s career with lasers and pliability (2024)

Dr. Gregg Larivee’s phone rang late one Sunday night in January 2022. Desperate on the other end, having come off yet another injury-riddled season, was Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander.

The ankle Santander sprained the previous April had flamed up in the offseason. An MRI with team doctors was negative. His orthopedic surgeon couldn’t find anything either. The next step was going to be exploratory surgery in his lower left leg that could have required months of rehabilitation.

Santander’s personal strength and conditioning coach Troy Jones suggested that he visit the CEO and co-founder of Integrated Medical Center in Jupiter, Florida.

“He called me and I was like, ‘Listen, obviously I can’t guarantee [anything],'” Larivee said. “But what I always tell guys is once you have surgery, you can’t go back.”

The pain management guru from Montreal has spent the better part of two decades treating an array of professional athletes. He is also the man responsible for the revival of Santander’s career.

Santander was a 2016 Rule 5 draft pick carrying a surgically repaired shoulder and elbow issues. Strains and sprains came with the power and defense that got him promoted through the minors up to being a big league mainstay.

Then his sought-after potential took a nosedive. Santander went from being a 2020 Gold Glove finalist with a .890 on-base-plus-slugging percentage to a below-average major leaguer in 2021. A slew of lower body injuries caused him to miss 52 games and exacerbated his regression that season. Even manager Brandon Hyde called it “a strange year for him in that he was never fully healthy.”

Larivee and Santander were on the phone that Sunday night. By Monday morning, Santander was driving 90 minutes from his then-home in Weston, Florida, to the Jupiter clinic.

With one treatment, Santander could walk pain-free. He returned Tuesday and could suddenly swing without irritation. Santander was back for more that Thursday and the pain had completely subsided. By week’s end, Larivee was on a call with the Orioles and team doctors.

“We used state-of-the-art technology to kind of open things up,” Larivee said.

Meet the doctor who revitalized Orioles’ Anthony Santander’s career with lasers and pliability (1)

Traditionally, athletes and trainers rely on cupping, needling and electrical muscle stimulation for pain management and recovery. “We try to stay away from that stuff,” Larivee said, opting for high-end, unique treatment to more deeply penetrate scar tissue.

Larivee has a background in active release technique, which is a soft tissue treatment that breaks down scar tissue by hand. That method could only penetrate so deep into the muscle. “How do we get to the cellular level?” he wondered.

The answer? Shockwave therapies and “a lot of high-end lasers that the U.S. Air Force uses,” Larivee said.

The lasers help stimulate healing and decrease inflammation. They address the scar tissue at a cellular level and enhance Santander’s pliability. “That’s where he sees the most benefit,” Larivee said.

Then, he turns to the connection between Santander’s central nervous system and muscular system with a movement training framework that he developed called Ruule, Larivee’s passion project and a revolutionary approach to address pliability using wearable wraps and what looks like bubbly red mats.

“The cool thing with Anthony is he’s so tuned into his body, and he notices right away when that nervous system is not connected to the muscular system,” Larivee said. “If you really watch his swing and there’s a disconnect, as soon as he gets that connected, within a day he’s hitting home runs again. It’s pretty crazy.”

One Johns Hopkins pain management and rehabilitation specialist explained pain as a “safety mechanism.” Dr. Daniel Sova said that, in some cases, it can become a learned response. An athlete can continually feel pain even without true physical damage if the nervous system is still firing pain signals.

“You almost have to simmer it down a bit,” Sova said, a core piece of Larivee’s effort.

Larivee graduated top of his class from New York Chiropractic College. A mentor helped set him up with a first job working with the Atlanta Falcons, Braves and Thrashers. He also treated several Olympians in 2004, which, for someone of Greek descent, was a thrill to see them off to Athens. He opened the private practice shortly thereafter, working with elite-level athletes such as Baltimore boxer Gervonta Davis, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman and MLB pitcher Noah Syndergaard.

Santander has since spread the word about Larivee with histeammates, including infielder Ramón Urías and relief pitchers Dillon Tate and Yennier Cano.

Last year, Cano was nearly shut down after a series with the Boston Red Sox for shoulder fatigue. “I treated him one time and freaking two days later,” Larivee said, “Cano is throwing heat again.”

Sova gave the analogy of a computer freezing up. Sometimes the only way to fix it is a reboot. Sometimes our bodies need something similar to get back to full form.

Most of Larivee’s clients pop in for an hour or so.

Santander spends his offseason waking up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to hit and train. Then, he’ll sit in hours of traffic to get to Jupiter. He’ll spend another four hours getting treatment, often not leaving until 10 p.m. It’s a 90-minute drive home. Wake up and do it again the next day.

“Our treatment sessions are not normal,” Larivee said. “I’ve never seen dedication like that. I’ve been doing this for 21 years, and it’s amazing.”

Meet the doctor who revitalized Orioles’ Anthony Santander’s career with lasers and pliability (2)

A new Santander emerged in 2022.

He played a career-high 152 games and led the Orioles with a career-high 33 home runs. Paired with a more patient approach, he posted a 43.3% hard-hit rate and a career best barrel rate (11.6%). Then he proved it was no fluke. Santander stayed durable into 2023, playing another 153 games, over which he compiled 28 homers and a career-high 152 hits.

Santander has avoided the injured list for nearly three full years.

“That’s something,” Santander started to say. He trailed off then paused. “I’m still here, man,” he continued with a shrug, almost nervous to consider the alternative.

There was one blip last season that nearly sidelined him in August.

Baltimore played a three-game weekend set in Oakland, after which Santander flew back with the team Sunday night writhing in pain from a sore back. The Orioles listed him as day-to-day with consideration for an IL stint.

“I gave him a call,” Santander said. “‘Man, I need you.’” He rerouted to Florida on Monday capitalizing on a break in the schedule for four hours worth of treatment. He flew back to Baltimore the same night.

He belted two home runs Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays and another homer Thursday.

“You can see my career has turned around,” Santander said. “To be able to play 150 games plus, that’s awesome. To be able to play every single day, that’s what helps you achieve those numbers at the end of the season.”

Added Larivee: “It’s not only about treating muscle but really enhancing healing and regeneration of tissue. So it’s a constant battle with Anthony trying to regenerate the tissue throughout the season to keep him healthy so he’s feeling fresh and new.”

Since Santander and Larivee started working together, the Orioles have given their veteran more leeway to see his doctor in-season. If, for example, the Orioles play Wednesday, have Thursday off, then play Friday, Santander will sometimes jet down to Ft. Lauderdale on the day off and drive an hour to the clinic for treatment.

Larivee makes periodic trips to Baltimore, too. When he does, Santander’s dad picks him up at the airport and his mom has a home-cooked meal waiting for him. “It’s more like a family relationship now,” Santander said. He’s become close with Larivee’s family as well, often catching up with his two sons over FaceTime.

Santander’s face lights up talking about Larivee. The past three years of work together have helped him shed the “injury-prone” label and turned him into one of baseball’s best — back to Gold Glove form with immense power.

“We made the investment and we see the results,” Larivee said. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Meet the doctor who revitalized Orioles’ Anthony Santander’s career with lasers and pliability (3)
Meet the doctor who revitalized Orioles’ Anthony Santander’s career with lasers and pliability (2024)
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