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Return to Play after Injury

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

Why do we want to focus on return to play? Who is this for? Only elite athletes or is this something for every active person?

Return to play is what happens after an injury and recovery period. That injury could be as minor as a broken finger to a full ACL tear and reconstructive surgery. When an athlete or an active person suffers an injury there are several stages they tend to go through. At first, they might be upset with themselves for getting injured. Then if they need a surgery or some other form of treatment, their feelings sort of fall away as they are busy with the treatment. After the treatment phase is over and they move on to recovery, they might be super focused again, not terribly concerned with how exactly they are feeling about themselves; or what will happen when they get to their sport or even if they ever will, and will they be as good as they were before. Can they train and compete at the same level? Sometimes an injury makes it so an athlete cannot make a full recovery and cannot return to the level they want and once did compete and train. And that is hard. So as much as our strength and conditioning will be to assist the athlete or active person to get back to where they just seconds before they got injured, this process is as much for their own person and confidence. How an athlete feels about themselves will impact their entire return to play for life.

As we have said, our goal is to prevent injuries, treat them if they occur and return the athlete or active person to where they were. The fact is no matter what no matter how well we prevent injury through proper movement patterns, being as strong as we need for our activity and stretching there are still too many things in the environment that are beyond our control that will impact our bodies in a positive or negative manner. So, we need to know how to return people to their activities better than they were before the injury.

There is a lot that goes on with an athlete when they start the journey back to the team. I don’t know enough about psychology to present it here, however, the mind can be your best friend or worst enemy when trying to recover.

Athletes will question themselves on everything. Will I be as good as I was before, will I be able to help my team, will I be cut from team, will my team mates want me back, has someone taken my placed on the team, do I still have anything to offer to the team, did I get too out of shape in the time I was out??? How long will it take for me to get my skills back? What if I suck? What happens if I get injured again? I don’t want to get injured again, it really hurt. Maybe if I play just easy, I won’t get hurt again. I could keep going with "inside the head" questions, but I think you get the point. As a strength and conditioning coach, I want to make sure the athlete is as strong as they need to be to return to their technical sport and be ready to get back to their usual performance level as fast as possible, but there is a process here.

The process although different for every athlete will be something like this: the athlete will be released or semi-released from physiotherapy, they will come to PerformanceByDesign (PBD), then the athlete will return to their team.

There could be a slight or moderate overlap between the physiotherapist and PBD where our coach and the physio will work together to make sure the athlete is doing OK and not pushing the injured part too hard too fast. Once the athlete is full released by physio, our coaches will continue to work in the gym with the athlete following key performance factors from the sport's specific Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).

At a certain point in this process, the PBD coach, the athlete (and maybe the parents), will contact the sport specific coach or sport club and find out if the athlete has met all the return to sport protocols for that sport and club. Once this is complete, the PBD coach can attend a few technical practices to continue to monitor the athlete's return to play. Monitoring an athlete in this transition is key to the prevention of re-injury. Once the athlete is able to fully integrate back into the sport and performing with confidence, PerformanceByDesign has done its job!

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