With the weather warming up and restrictions being lifted, you and your family are most likely itching to get back to resuming activities and playing sports again. When you are returning to play, whether it be from coming off of an injury or an extended break, it is critically important that you ease yourself back into activities and sports participation to avoid potential injury. Your body can easily mislead you because you feel strong, well-rested and eager to get back to playing at 110%. However, to avoid potential setbacks, gradually building strength and endurance and paying attention to pain as a “warning sign” is recommended. Think about it this way, when you first start a car on a cold morning, you cannot expect it to blow warm air right away. However, with a little time and patience, the desired goal is achieved. Your body reacts in the same way, which is why it is important to perform a structured dynamic warm-up, including injury prevention strategies, prior to gradually returning to play. While mild pain is common and expected with increased activity, more severe pain or pain lasting more than 3 days may be a “warning sign” for injury and may warrant further evaluation from an Athletic Trainer, Physical Therapist or Sports Medicine Physician. Whether you enjoy recreational activities or compete as a seasoned athlete, it is important to go slow and pay attention to any “warning signs” of injury. Take the necessary time to properly re-train your body so you can reach, or surpass, your previous fitness level.
Slow and steady wins the race.
~ Dr. Mark Wood
Luke Hudson, PT, took some time to answer questions about safely returning to sport.
Q: What are some potential injuries that could happen if I try to return to the same level of play?
With restrictions being lifted and a return to sports approaching, athletes should follow a graduated return to sport protocol. If intensity and frequency of exercise is increased too rapidly, overuse injuries such as muscle strains, tendinopathies or stress reactions could occur. Cardiovascular and muscle fatigue can lead to altered mechanics during sport resulting in ligament sprains or ruptures.
Q: I stretch before I workout/play – is that sufficient?
A proper dynamic warmup should account for all demands that will be placed on the body during a sporting event. Improving flexibility with stretching is important, but it needs to be supplemented with muscle activation, balance and plyometrics/agility work to create an ideal warm up. The FIFA 11+ program provides a great resource on how to warm up properly and can be tailored to any sport.
Q: How will I know when I am ready to really push myself?
Each individual athlete will return to their prior level of fitness at their own pace. As you notice increased cardiovascular endurance during practice and reduced muscle soreness following training sessions, a gradual increase in frequency and intensity of training can occur. It is important to be able to recognize signs of overuse such as abnormal muscle soreness, pain, point tenderness, fatigue and/or changes in running/throwing mechanics.
Q: What should my post-workout/play recovery look like?
A proper cooldown after practice/games is a good way to end each session. This can include light jogging exercises and dynamic stretching. Hydration to replenish fluids lost during a training session is also essential.
Q: What are some things I can do now in order to prepare my body?
Major contributors to sports-related injury are inflexibility, poor muscular strength and cardiovascular fatigue. Focus should be placed on improving muscle flexibility through stretching and/or foam rolling and improving strength of commonly weak muscle groups. The areas include hamstrings, core and gluteals in youth athletes. Improving cardiovascular endurance prior to return to training can reduce the effects of fatigue associated with sports-related injury.
At Wake Orthopaedics, we know that young athletes who participate in injury prevention strategies at least twice a week are 50 percent less likely to sustain a sports-related injury, which is why we offer a comprehensive Sports Injury Prevention Program. The Program creates the right foundation to help young athletes succeed in sports and in life. The Wake Orthopaedics Sports Performance team of physicians and physical therapists knows that the key to top athletic performance is a tailored program that meets the specific needs of each young athlete. Our team understands that young athletes, unlike adults, are still growing. They take this factor, along with sport, gender and more, into account when designing a performance and injury prevention program for your child or teen. To learn more, or to schedule your FREE evaluation, reach out to your closest Wake Orthopaedics office:
About Mark L. Wood, MD
Dr. Mark Wood is board certified in Orthopedic Sports Medicine at Wake Orthopaedics with a practice that is focused on knee and shoulder injuries and disorders.