Anyone who engages in sports and exercise for either recreation or competition knows they are putting themselves at risk for injury. The key is what happens following an injury. It has been shown that the sooner treatment is initiated following an injury; the sooner the person will be back to pain free participation in activities.
Sports injuries are caused by repetitive low impact movements or high intensity and magnitude movements such as being tackled in football. These injuries cause damage to our tissues and create imbalances in our musculoskeletal system as well as the nervous system.
Soft tissue healing is normally to 6-8 weeks in the average person. The time for return to sports following injuries that require orthopedic surgery such as rotator cuff repairs and ACL reconstructions can be up to 1 year.
So how does an elite athlete recover and return to play so quickly, in sometimes more than half the time? The average return to sports for an athlete following a meniscus excision is 2-3 weeks but for a normal person it is 6- 8 weeks.
Elite athletes are :
- Typically stronger before the injury
- Regimented people and are used to following a routine
- Used to training
- Highly motivated to get back to play
- Much healthier overall
Elite athletes tend to heal at quicker rates secondary to :
- Enhanced blood flow, i.e better cardiovascular status
- Better nutrition and supplementation
- Early access to rehabilitation
- Evaluation based protocol
During the acute phase, 2-3 days following the injury sports physical therapist will :
- Provide resources of pain modification and ways to limit inflammation and swelling.
- Provide any assistive devices such as crutches or braces to limit any further damage
- Refer the patient back to see their physician to rule out any orthopedic or medical pathology and to get any needed anti-inflammatory or pain relieving medications.
Once the medical pathology is ruled out physical rehabilitation should begin. This can be a critical time to do the proper interventions. If wrong, it could significantly affect the amount of time it takes to make a full recovery. The therapist should begin to address any obvious muscle imbalances that can be assessed at this stage of the healing process.
Revolution Physical therapists are highly educated regarding strength, speed, agility, coordination, and power. This allows us to begin to address these components early on to facilitate functional ability during the final, return to sport, phase of the rehab process.
The most difficult part of the return to sport phase is return of muscle memory. Initially the athlete has to use great concentration of focus and conscious thought to perform even simple activities such as walking. The therapist will progressively increase the difficulty of the activities to challenge the athlete to eventually perform difficult movement skills without conscious efforts. This phase also requires a significant amount of ability to respond to unexpected obstacles and uncertain movements of other
Finally sports specific functional testing such as hop tests will be performed to determine appropriateness for a full return to sports participation; often conducted unilaterally and compared to the uninjured side.
The athlete should be progressed back into practices and competition slowly while being educated to continue to observe for indicators of swelling. They must inform their therapist or athletic trainer if swelling occurs. This can be a sign that the demands being placed on the tissue are too great for the healing phase and activity should be backed down and started over once the inflammation has subsided.
A sports physical therapist starts with the end in mind. Athletes need a program that is geared to allow them to run, jump, and cut better than they did before the injury. Many physical therapists are not well trained for sports performance enhancement. At Revolution Physical Therapy we have a residency trained sports therapist who was a 3 sport collegiate athlete and has spent his career working with athletes from the NFL to youth soccer leagues. Please choose wisely when recovering from a sports
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