Injury Recovery: Getting Back to Sport

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Injuries are common place in most competitive sports, it happens to even the best prepared athletes.  

Returning to sport after an injury can be a long and frustrating process. 

But committing to the right training program makes this process smoother, prevents re-injury and can stop you from developing chronic problems that may lead to a longer recovery.  

Each phase of recovery has its issues that need to be addressed.

Phases of recovery

Let’s look at the phases of recovery all the way back to peak sports performance.  

The process of recovery can be broken down as follows:

Getting Back to Sport After Injury 1

So let’s start at the top, with acute injury.

Acute injury phase

The acute injury phase includes any immediate treatment.  

I’ll also include surgery here, as in essence it starts you at the same point in recovery.  

Getting the correct initial treatment from and following the advice of a medical professional can significantly reduce recovery times.

Repair phase

If the injury was severe the chances are you’ll have a course of physiotherapy in the repair phase.  

While this will mean everyday life is back to normal, by the end of this phase you may well be some way off playing sport again.

What needs addressing in the repair phase:

Working with a physiotherapist will speed up repair and ensure the best long term out come by preventing the build up of scar tissue and addressing the mobility and stability of the joint.  

Having a personal trainer or coach who works closely with a physiotherapist during or after treatment can help in the implementation of a training program around, or progressing on from, the initial rehabilitation. 

Doing enough of the right training during the repair phase means avoiding unnecessary de-conditioning and getting back to sport sooner.

Training around injury can include identifying pain free exercises, using unilateral exercises to slow atrophy on the injured side, and alternative non impact actives like swimming to keep conditioning from declining. 

Planning training and setting goals can maintain focus and confidence in what is perhaps the most frustrating phase of recovery. 

Getting advice on managing expectations at this time and staying involved with your club or team in some capacity can really help.

Remodelling phase

As a fitness professional I’m most involved with the remodelling phase.

This means getting athletes ready to return to practice their sport after an injury is repaired.  

This often leads on from the work a physiotherapist has done.  

I’ve worked with many athletes across many different sports from fighters to footballers, both professionals and amateurs.  

One of the most important things I’ve learnt from this experience is to take a holistic approach at this stage, looking at the whole body, not just the area local to the injury.  

Pre-armed with the knowledge of the nature of the injury and rehab up to this point, this approach can often reveal other issues that may have lead to the injury in the first place.

What needs addressing in the remodelling phase:

  1. Restricted mobility from injured tissue (this is addressed by physiotherapy if undertaken).
  2. Compensation patterns from moving whist injured
  3. The original dysfunctional pattern that made you susceptible to injury in the first place may not have been addressed yet, this can happen when it’s not in the area of the injury but further up or down the kinetic chain
  • In particular stretch reflex can be impaired by injury and needs to be re-taught/stimulated up to the standard required by the sport. Not doing so can easily lead to re-injury
  • Can occur if the injury has meant a substantial time out. Interventions can be done during the repair phase to minimise this, however strength symmetry should be returned to 80% or more before returning to practice
  • should be observed for any sign of weakness or dysfunction before green lighting a return to practice

Return to practice phase

Playing the sport at a lower intensity would be a great re-introduction but how realistic is this given the competitive nature of athletes? 

That’s why returning to practice before competitive matches is essential.  

The correct training program along side directly practicing the skills of their sport will build confidence as the ability to perform more complex movements increases. 

Intensity and workload play a crustal parts in training. Too little and you will become de-conditioned and suffer subsequence injury when workload rises. 

Too much and it puts you at immediate risk of re-injury. 

More often than not the competitive nature of an athlete will lead to a tendency to overtrain/under recover at this point, and this needs to be kept in check.

What needs addressing in the return to practice phase:

Return to play phase

Participating in friendlies or competitions with less crucial outcomes, means the competitive element increases the intensity of the activity substantially without the pressure to perform. 

It’s a real test of how well the recovery has gone so far. 

An objective point of view at this stage can be beneficial and you should to be ready to keep working on injury specific exercises if necessary. 

What needs addressing in the return to play phase:

Return to performance phase

A solid foundation has been laid at this point and the increase of intensity that comes with high pressure competition adds the final push to match fitness.

What needs addressing in the return to performance phase:

The wrap

Recovery should not only focus on the injury but look at the whole body to address issues that may have been previously ignored ensuring a solid foundation for your return to sport.  

Relevant goals should be set and achieved at each phase before moving on the next.

Getting back to sport after an injury can be a frustrating process but with some patience and careful programming you have the opportunity to start competitive practice with improved performance. 

To your strong, injury free, optimised future,

Dom & the Optimised personal training team

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