If you’re an athlete, it’s tough to be sidelined due to an injury. We know it’s difficult to sit back and watch the action while you recover. We also know you may even be tempted to get back out there before your injury is fully healed but we are here to tell you, DON’T! Just as you have a commitment to your sport or activity, you also have a commitment to your body and to keep it safe and healthy, remember it’s the only one you have to live in.
So how long should you wait and what’s the best way to get back into your activity after an injury? Dr. Martha Pyron, Director of Primary Care Sports Medicine at UT Health Austin’s Musculoskeletal Institute discusses the safest way to get back into the game after an injury.
First and foremost, it is typically recommended you see a doctor for sports-related injuries to get a better understanding of a proper treatment process depending on the type of injury and it’s severity. “If you have an injury and its severe enough that you need to see a doctor or perhaps you need a brace or an x-ray, you need to listen to your doctor about how to treat that injury and follow their recommendations on how to get back into your sport,” says Dr. Pyron.
Minor injuries like sprains or strained muscles usually take a few weeks of no activity at all or very low exercise to heal completely. It is also a good idea to use a brace to support the affected area to help aid in the healing process. Be sure to rest, rest, rest! “Before you get back into your sport, make sure your injury is fully healed or very close to being totally healed, you may need to brace the area for protection which you can buy at your local pharmacy or sports store and this will allow you to ease back into your sport safely,” reinforces Dr. Pyron.
It’s also crucial to re-enter your sport SLOWLY. After sitting out for a few weeks you may be excited to come back full-force especially if you’re feeling good but you risk easily re-injuring yourself if you push things too hard right away. A good guideline is to start at about 50% of your normal level. “For example if I am treating a marathon runner, they should not run a marathon the day after I clear them from their injury,” says Dr. Pyron, “instead they should try jogging around the block to make sure that’s ok, then start slowing building up distance and speed until they resume their normal activity.” Getting back to your normal activity level could take weeks but please exercise patience with your body, re-injury puts you back at step one.
Dr. Pyron also explains that for sports like football or basketball where you are maneuvering in different directions it is recommended you try to simulate those activities slowly and safely, to be sure the injured area performs ok under the force applied. “Working with a physical therapist to replicate these types of quick movement activities helps to ensure you are practicing them in a protected and proper way and to check for full injury recovery,” says Dr. Pyron.
And lastly, listen to your body. If you feel even the slightest discomfort in the affected area after getting back into your activity be sure to stop and give yourself more time to recover or see a doctor for further evaluation.