Returning To Play: Bouncing Back After an Injury

Physical activity is one of the most important things people can do for their health. Active people generally live longer and are at less risk for serious health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. Whether it’s walking, running, biking or dancing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. But what happens when an injury threatens your return to activity?

Most sports-related injuries are non-surgical injuries such as strains and sprains. These types of injuries occur in people of all ages, including many who participate in youth sports and weekend warrior activities. More serious injuries can also occur, with the most common injury being an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, which affects the knee. More serious injuries typically require surgical intervention to assist in the healing process. Strains and sprains can often be managed with conservative treatments such as bracing and physical therapy.

It is extremely important to let an injury heal completely before returning to activity. Failure to let an injury heal can lead to worsening of the injury or a more serious injury to the affected extremity. Once an injury is completely healed, the risk of reinjury is very low due to rehabilitation that focuses on normalizing the mechanics of the injured area and the surrounding areas to help prevent further injury.

Sports-related injuries should be evaluated by a healthcare professional to determine the severity of the injury and appropriate treatment plan. Receiving an accurate diagnosis is paramount to expediting the recovery process. Once an athlete does well with the initial treatment, there are return-to-play protocols that will gradually return the athlete back to full activity. While this process is overseen by a physician, for sports athletes, it is a multidisciplinary approach that also involves the athlete, family members, physical therapists, athletic trainers and coaches.

One of the best things a person can do at home to relieve pain associated with a minor injury is the RICE method.

  • Rest – Pain is the body signaling something is wrong. Once an injury occurs, it is best to stop all activity and rest as much as possible to prevent further injury. This can also prevent further bruising.
  • Ice – Ice is a great tool to reduce pain and swelling. Apply an ice pack for 15-20 minutes every couple of hours for the first two days following the injury.
  • Compression – Wrap the injured area with an elastic medical bandage to prevent swelling. The wrap should be snug but not too tight to interrupt blood flow.
  • Elevation – Keep the injured part of the body above the level of your heart when lying down. Doing so can reduce swelling.

Keep in mind that getting injured is sometimes part of life. Injury can be a devastating thing to deal with both mentally and physically, but there are plenty of healthcare professionals specializing in this area who are available to help injured individuals get back in the game.

Dr. Anil Gupta is an orthopaedic surgeon with ProMedica Physicians.