When are you ready to return to sport after injury? Suffering an injury is not only painful, but it can also be frustrating and time-consuming. It can make you impatient and want to return to your favourite sport as soon as possible. Yet, the single biggest risk factor predicting a future injury is having a history of the same injury. In other words, once you have an injury – despite overcoming your symptoms and pain – and regaining your full strength and mobility – you are between two and four times more likely to have another injury in the future. Scientists in kinesiology and physical therapy continue to examine the reasons behind this statistic; however, from experience, I’d like to share some important tips that will help you to return to sport after injury and lower your risk of injury in the future:
Tip #1: Don’t rush it. Many people see the end of therapy as if they were climbing out of a dark hole. Seeing the proverbial light, they charge back into their sport workout schedule as if nothing ever happened, blind to the reality that the time spent recovering has also left them out of shape. Unless addressed this loss of conditioning leaves you prone to re-injury or to new injuries. Unfortunately, the line between fitness and injury is not only invisible but also moves depending on where you are in your recovery process. Complete recovery follows a path that continues well after discharge from therapy to ensure you have restored all elements needed for your sport. As you return to your normal fitness routine, remember to build off of the progress made in therapy. That means slowly progressing as your abilities allow until you reach, and then exceed, your pre-injury fitness levels.
Tip #2: Incorporate recovery time in your workouts Most often, what goes unnoticed is that exercise actually makes you weaker (in the short term) and that your progress is highly determined by the amount and quality of rest you receive between training sessions. This means there is a window of time within which you will make the best gains. Clients who are are highly motivated to get back onto the court or course are often delayed by their eagerness to speed their return to sport. Cutting into rest time means incomplete recovery, and can lead to an injury when the tissues are no longer able to manage the relentless stresses. However, this is not a license to sit on the couch for two days with a bag of Doritos and wait for your next scheduled workout. Recovery not only includes rest, but also changes in your routine. For example, attending a stretch class, going for hike or bicycle ride, or swimming are all strategies that can boost your recovery and help you to return to sport quickly and safely.