Injuries occur in sports. Some require rest, some rehab, and sometimes treatment and physical activity modifications are necessary to get the athlete back into competition. Every injury and every athlete are different so there is no black-and-white answer to how fast or what is needed to return to play. When an injury occurs, it is smart to seek out advice from a medical professional such as a Physician, Athletic Trainer, or Physical Therapist. This will help determine what the injury is and its severity. At that point, a game plan should be put in place to get the athlete back in the game quickly and safely. When preparing a rehab strategy, a few simple things must be addressed in most injuries.
These include decreasing pain and swelling, regaining full range of motion of the affected joint as well as any surrounding joints that may be affected, and regaining strength. If these factors are not addressed, the process may not be complete for a safe return. As the rehab process progresses, the athlete needs to be placed under certain stressors and demands that they will meet during competition.
In other words, the demands placed on an athlete are different from those placed on a non-athlete. An athlete’s rehab program needs to include dynamic movements, impact exercises, acceleration, deceleration, and stability drills to name a few that will mimic the demands placed on their bodies during play. Incorporating these ideas will test the injured area under a controlled environment to see how the athlete reacts to the outside forces. It will also create confidence in the athlete mentally that he or she is ready to return.
As the injury heals, the athlete should progress through drills and modified practices prior to returning to full practices and games. At this point, the athlete has been tested away from the field, ice, or court and now needs to be tested in their sport. This is also when conditioning needs to be improved to return to action. Though it seems like a lengthy process, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The goal should be to return the athlete as soon and as safely as possible to minimize re-injury.
Chris Phillips is a certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist with over 30 years of experience in professional hockey, football, and soccer as well as the 2022 Winter Olympics. Chris is the owner of Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Orange County, CA.