When Can You Return to Play After a Sports Injury?

If sports are an important part of your life or you are a competitive athlete, it can be difficult to “sit on the bench” after an injury. The most common question physical therapists answer when treating athletes is “How soon can I get back to training and play?” It’s extremely important to complete the healing process to avoid reinjury – returning to activity too soon can cause further damage and put you at greater risk for additional injuries when muscles and ligaments work to compensate for the original injury.

But how do you know when the healing process is complete? How long will it be before you can play and train again? Understanding what to expect can help you maintain your athletic conditioning and help you maintain a good attitude about the healing process. The main factors to consider when determining whether or not you are ready to return to play include:

Type and Severity of the Injury

Start by determining whether your injury was caused by overuse or a traumatic event. Overuse injuries usually heal more rapidly and respond well to conservative treatment such as physical therapy or over-the-counter medications. A traumatic injury will require a longer period of recovery and in some cases may involve surgery.

Your Level of Pain

If you are experiencing severe pain, you should seek medical attention immediately. Don’t tough it out and “play through the pain” in the hopes that it will get better on its own. For mild to moderate pain, you should rest and seek the opinion of a medical professional as well. While mild to moderate pain usually signals that the injury is not severe, some internal injuries don’t cause severe pain, particularly in the case of blunt force trauma such as falls or head injuries. Your physician will determine what treatment to follow and explain your options. If mild to moderate pain does not improve after about a week, consider seeing an orthopedic specialist to avoid a chronic condition.

Know You Are Ready

There are some indicators that can help you decide when to return to play after recovery:

  • Absence of pain
  • Absence of swelling
  • Ability to bear weight on the injured area without pain or swelling
  • Regained strength
  • Recovery of a full range of motion

When you do return to sports, reintroduce activities slowly, take extra care to use the injured area properly, and pay attention to any symptoms for several months.

Listen to Your Physician

Check in with your doctor or physical therapist, even for mild injuries, to be sure that you are not causing new damage or using the injured area improperly. Your physical therapist can help you recover, heal, and prevent new injuries that may arise from improper form. A physical therapist can also help determine when you are ready to play and speed your recovery so that you can begin training sooner.

Our physical therapists can help you return to play and even improve your game by helping you to use your body properly when you play sports. If you are experiencing pain or have recently suffered from a traumatic sports injury, let us help you to Move Better!