Returning to Sport After Injury: An Athletic Therapist's Perspective
by Carrie Mussbacher CAT(C)
After sustaining an injury, whether a competitive or recreational athlete, many people return to sport too soon, or with hesitation and fear of re-injury. Many return to sport deconditioned and often feel out of shape during their first practices and games back. The unfortunate part of this, is that none of these should be the case.
As a Certified Athletic Therapist, it is my profound belief that you should feel 100% confident in your body when you step onto the pitch, lace up your runners or hit the ice. When working with an injured athlete, no matter what sport or level, there are goals of rehab that need to be addressed and those will be different as your body goes through the stages of healing. Getting creative is sometimes necessary to find a way to ensure you maintain your cardiovascular fitness through the early stages of rehab, but you shouldn’t be sidelined from all activity for too long.
Rehab of an injury is not just limited to that body part. If you break down your sport or activity, your rehab program needs to include components of all aspects of fitness and sport to ensure your entire body is ready for the return to sport phase, not just the injured body part.
Take for instance a baseball player with an elbow injury. Their rehab may definitely involve some elbow, shoulder, and scapular (shoulder blade) exercises. As an Athletic Therapists, I look beyond the upper extremity. I break down the movement demands of the sport and when you do that you see that thoracic spine mobility, rotational core stability, hip mobility, single leg stance and ankle stability are all areas that have to be included into a rehab program. The position they play, throwing, hitting, running are all activities that should be accounted into their rehab plan.
Now when we talk about ‘return to sport’, you may have heard that phrase advertised by rehabilitation or fitness specialists. But what does it really mean? Return to sport is the best part of injury rehabilitation in my personal opinion. It is the part where all aspects of rehab and fitness come together and you begin to cross the bridge from injury rehabilitation over into sport performance. We get to put all the puzzle pieces together, all the movement patterns we’ve broken down, and start building back up by putting them together to mimic the sport demands before going back into practice. Safe progressions can be measured by tests that help prove your strength, speed, power and cardiovascular fitness are sufficient to return to sport.
Now that you know how awesome return to sport rehab is, it is frustrating to know that recent studies in college and high school athletes showed that athletes were severely under trained when they returned to their sport. Their bodies were not exposed to sufficient training load from a cardiovascular perspective, repetition or load perspective, and the unfortunate reality is, we know when athletes are fatigued or deconditioned injuries/re-injury is more likely to occur.
Reflect on past injuries you or your friends and family have had. Were you/they ready mentally and physically to return to whatever sport or activity? If the answer is no, the next time you or someone you know sustains an injury, look for a Certified Athletic Therapist whose specialty is return to sport, and they’ll help you return to your sport or activity.