When Is It Safe to Return to Sports After an Injury?

If you have had a recent injury one of your main concerns may be how soon you can return to sports. The answer to this question is not always easy because each athlete and each injury are unique. Returning too soon can increase your risk of re-injury or developing a chronic problem that will lead to a longer recovery. Waiting too long, however, can lead to unnecessary deconditioning.

Proper Conditioning Aids Injury Recovery Time

One thing that can improve your recovery from an injury is a high level of conditioning prior to the injury. Research specifically shows that a history of resistance training helps reduce the risk of injury.

 Not only will being in great shape help prevent injury and lessen the severity of an injury, but it also has been shown to reduce recovery time.

How to Speed Injury Recovery Time

Guidelines for Safe Return to Sports

  • You are pain-free. If it still hurts, don’t use it.
  • You have no swelling. Swelling is a sign of inflammation. If you still have swelling, it is too early to return to sports.
  • You have full range of motion. Compare the injured part with the uninjured opposite side to see if you have regained range of motion.
  • In the case of common foot and ankle injuries, you have full or close to full (80-90%) strength. Again, compare with the uninjured side to see if strength has returned.
  • For lower body injuries – you can perform full weight bearing on injured hips, knees, and ankles without limping. If you are limping, you are still not ready to return to sports. An altered gait can lead to further pain and problems.
  • For upper body injuries – you can perform throwing movements with proper form and no pain

Keep in mind that even when you feel 100% you may have deficits in strength, joint stability, flexibility or skill. Take extra care with the injured part for several months.

These are guidelines only; you should follow your physician’s advice regarding return to sports as well as get clearance from a sports physical therapist if you’re working with one or have access to one.


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