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10 Tips for Returning Safely to Sports

by UPMC Susquehanna

There is nothing more disappointing to an athlete than being sidelined by a sports injury. The number one thing on any injured athlete’s mind is “when can I return to sports?” Every athlete and every injury are unique, so the answer to this question isn’t one-size-fits-all. If you return too soon, you risk re-injury or developing a chronic problem that will lead to a longer recovery. Keep these tips in mind as you recover, to ensure a safe return to the game you love.

1.    Get professional help. After an injury, it is important for a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer to determine the extent of your injury. In conjunction with a physical therapist, they can help rehabilitate your sports injury. They understand your desire to play your sport again, but will always prioritize your health and know how to safely rebuild your strength and mobility through physical therapy. 

2.    Have patience. Depending on the type of injury, you may be unable to play for several weeks. Rather than focusing on everything you can’t do, focus on the activities and workouts you can do. Take your recovery one day at a time.

3.    Stay positive during recovery. Sports are a big part of your life and being sidelined can be hard. Channel your energy into your recovery and keep a positive mindset. A positive attitude can actually help you recover from an injury more quickly.

4.    Keep your core strong. Make the most of your time away from the game. If your injury allows it, improving core strength can help maintain and improve your overall fitness level to so you can transition more easily when you return to the game.

5.    Focus on flexibility. Take time to properly stretch your uninjured muscles and increase your flexibility to improve your overall fitness and keep joints limber.

6.    Build strength where you can. Recovery may necessitate protecting part of your body, but you can build strength in other areas. If you have a leg injury, work on your upper body. If you have a shoulder injury, work on strengthening your legs. Improve what you can, while you heal. 

7.    Ease into activity. You can’t suddenly return to playing at full speed. Once you get the green light to play, ease into activity. Gradually increase your training each day until you can be cleared for full participation.

8.    Listen to your medical team. Your doctor, physical therapist, and team athletic trainer monitor your recovery and only move you to higher-level activities when you are ready. They can also teach you how to avoid re-injury when returning to sports.

9.    Don’t return on game day. Don’t rush your return. Although you may be itching to compete in District finals, the risk for re-injury is higher when jumping right back into a game. Rejoin practice and talk to your coach about rest time to avoid a second injury or recovery relapse.

10.    Don’t overdo it once you return. If it hurts, stop. Even if you feel 100 percent better, your body is likely still returning to its full strength, range-of-motion, and stability. Be mindful of your injury for several months and regularly check in with your sports medicine doctor or physical therapist if you suspect a problem. 

When it comes to the big game, safety scores the winning point. Getting back to the sport you love quickly, without re-injury, is the goal of UPMC Susquehanna’s return to sports program. Our sports medicine physicians, physical therapists, and certified athletic trainers have extensive experience in sports medicine, injury prevention, rehabilitation, and recovery. To make an appointment, call (570) 321-2020.

Dr. Edward Gusick is a board-certified sports medicine and internal medicine physician, who specializes in helping athletes return to play. He earned his medical degree from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his residency and fellowship at Geisinger Medical Center. UPMC Susquehanna offers return to play programs, sports medicine, and physical therapy in Muncy, Mansfield, Wellsboro, Sunbury, Lock Haven, and Williamsport.