Getting back into your sport after an injury can be physically and mentally challenging. Luckily, as an athlete, you are already ahead of the game: athletes heal more quickly than non-athletes, and they tend to complete their physical therapy programs with more drive because of their motivation to play. While recovery periods vary depending on the individual and the injury, here’s some advice on how to get back into the game as quickly and safely as possible.
When can I return to my sport?
You need to have your doctor’s permission before you begin playing again. More serious injuries, particularly ones that require surgery, will have longer recovery periods. Your physical therapist will be able to work closely with you and your doctor to communicate your progress and readiness to return to high level activities. Before you start running again, you should be able to walk at a normal pace for 30 minutes without pain, go up and down stairs with ease and tolerate plyometric training.
When will I play at my pre-injury level again?
Depending on your injury, it can be harmful for your body to do too much too soon, so it’s important to ease your way back into training. You should work with your therapist and coach to design workouts that incrementally get you up to speed. Intervals are an excellent way to gain strength and endurance safely. For example, when initially returning to running, your therapist may have you start with a walk and jog combination and eventually work up to a jog and run or run and sprint combination when you have the appropriate mechanics. Whatever workout regimen you decide on, you should always make sure to have an appropriate warm up and stretch routine before you exercise along with an adequate cool down to prevent further injury.
Are there ways for me to stay in shape while I’m recovering?
If your injury allows you to be mobile, you can try to cross-train or strengthen other parts of your body. It is encouraged to have a discussion with your doctor or physical therapist to identify safe exercises that target other body parts but protect your injury through all your stages of rehab and recovery. You may be allowed to perform safe activities or exercises such as core strengthening, yoga and/or swimming which are also great ways to strengthen the body as you ease back into running and other aspects of your sport.
Once you’ve recovered, take care to avoid re-injury. Scar tissue is weaker than uninjured tissue, perform the targeted exercises your therapist designed for you to strengthen the injured area. Continue to use injury prevention methods including general stretches before and after exercise and staying hydrated when you play. Consult with your coach or athletic trainer to see if massage treatment will be helpful for you as you return to your sport. Discuss with your doctor and therapist, typical or expected symptoms as you return to high level activities so you know if you need to modify activities or contact your physician.