One of the questions we get asked most by patient’s is “when can I return to sport/ work/ physical activity?”
The short answer is-it depends. Injuries are multi-factorial and go beyond just the physical condition of the individual. The person’s general health status, level of sport/ activity, and psychological well-being all need to be considered.
An injury can be simple and straight forward, or it can be complex and require much more of an extensive rehabilitation program.
Your physio will assess you and take your sport/s, or activity levels into consideration to tailor a rehab program that will get you to your goal as quickly and safely as possible.
There are 4 key stages (or steps) that we need to consider and work through together to make sure this happens.
1. What you need to do/avoid for now
One of the key principles when you sustain an acute injury is to rest that body part and protect it from aggravation. This will allow your body to do what it does best and initiate the acute healing response. Take an ankle injury for example: when you roll your ankle, it will likely swell and bruise and be very sore to walk on. You will need to adequately rest it and avoid anything too strenuous that will cause an increase in pain as this will likely lead to a prolonged recovery. If deemed appropriate, your physio will provide some type of external support such as strapping or splinting to help you with this.
Along with protecting the injured area, simple stretches and mobility exercises will aide most recoveries. If we continue with the ankle as an example; simple range of motion exercises and weight bearing as tolerated has proven to excel recovery. These exercises should not cause any significant discomfort and will help you get back in action sooner.
2. What you will progress to (and how quickly you should do this).
Your physio will introduce techniques such as joint mobilizations, soft tissue therapy and dry needling to help reduce your symptoms.
This will allow you to progress your exercises more comfortably and confidently. As you improve, your exercises will be gradually upgraded so you feel challenged, and your progression continues. We will tailor this to make sure it is specific and useful for your individual needs. Some sports have specific criteria that will help guide your treatment and rehab. Your program will also include a couple of training sessions to make sure you are mentally and physically ready to get back in the action.
3. Return to sport
So, you’re feeling pretty good now and you’ve had a couple of training sessions. This is when we start to introduce you back into the action gradually. Remember that returning to sport at pre-injury level is a process. You should not expect yourself to be back at your 100% performance on your first, second or even third game back but instead, you should feel that you are improving with each game. We encourage players to communicate and work with both their physio and coaches to set SMART goals. (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based).
4. Injury prevention when you have returned to sport
Most people think returning to sport/ gym/ normal life is the end-goal. It is not.
A successful rehab program is one that will help you reduce your chance of re-injury. Your physio will continue to work with you to make sure you have an effective home-based exercise program to continue working on. This will most often include strengthening and motor-control components.