Why let kids have all the fun? Adult recreational leagues offer a range of activities and divisions – from low-pressure to ultracompetitive – so you can find a team whether you’re fresh off a college roster or just off the sofa. But no matter what the game – basketball, softball, kickball, flag football, even bocce ball – with each activity comes a risk of injury. And nobody likes to be hurt on the sidelines during competition.
One of the most important goals of sports medicine is to try to get athletes back into action as soon as possible. Returning too soon, before adequate healing or recovery, can put you at risk for re-injury and possibly an even longer down time. But with the right game plan, from early diagnosis and treatment to full functional rehabilitation, you can often safely accelerate your “return to play.” “Return to play” is the term for being able to safely come back from an injury to competition.
Tips from the pros
When it comes to injuries, we can learn a lot from professional athletes. Their good conditioning cannot only prevent injuries, but also lessen the severity of an injury and speed recovery. Other lessons from the pros include:
- Maintain year-round balanced physical conditioning
• Make sure that injuries are recognized early and treated promptly
• Participate in a full functional rehabilitation program
• Stay fit while injured
• Keep a positive, upbeat attitude
Recover in phases
Recovery from an injury involves a series of logical steps from the time of the injury until you are able to return to competition. Your physician and physical therapist should outline and monitor each step.
During the acute phase, just after injury, the focus should be on minimizing swelling. This involves the RICE formula: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, along with a limitation of activities. During this period, it is important to maintain overall conditioning while the injury heals. Even if one leg is in a cast, the rest of the body can be exercised by performing strength-training exercises. Do not wait until an injury is healed to get back into shape.
In the next phase of recovery, you should work on regaining full motion and strength of the injured limb or joint. Your physician, therapist, or certified trainer should outline an exact plan. For most injuries, gentle protective range of motion exercises can be started almost immediately. When strength returns to normal, functional drills – brisk walking, jumping rope, light jogging, etc. – can be started.
Once you have progressed with motion, strength, endurance and agility and are tolerating functional drills, you can try higher levels of functional tests and drills that incorporate sport specific movement patterns on the field or court. Athletic tape, braces, or supports can help during this transition time. You are ready to return to play only when you are practicing hard without significant difficulty and the healing has progressed to the point where the likelihood of injury or harm is low.
Sports injuries are almost inevitable. But how long recovery will take depends on proper sports injury management and rehabilitation. Read more about return to play from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons here.