What is return-to-play rehabilitation?

Return-to-play rehabilitation is the recovery process an injured athlete goes through. There's a point during recovery when you'll feel strong enough to play your sport or activity again. However, if you start playing too soon, you may become injured again.

You can get injured playing any sport. If you injure a muscle, ligament or joint, you might need return-to-play rehabilitation. The right diagnosis of your injury is necessary for the best treatment. Your injury might affect your endurance, flexibility, strength and coordination. If you have pain, you need time to heal. Return-to-play rehabilitation helps make sure your injury doesn't get worse. It involves exercises that improve your fitness conditioning while keeping you safe.

What to expect from return-to-play rehabilitation

There are steps your doctor takes during return-to-play rehabilitation. Each step takes time.

Following these phases reduces the chance of re-injury:

  1. Limit swelling and inflammation through home care or surgery
  2. Work to regain full motion and strength of injured limb or joint
  3. Progress to higher levels of function and strength, often with the help of tape, braces and other supports
  4. Progress to highest level of function and strength where the possibility of re-injury is low 

Rehabilitation works when you follow what your doctor asks you to do. It's also important to know that everyone responds differently to treatment. Be patient with your recovery.

Common conditions requiring return-to-play rehabilitation

Not every injury needs return-to-play rehabilitation. Injuries that benefit from rehabilitation include:

  • Hip injuries
  • Ankle injuries 
  • Tissue injuries
  • Stress fractures
  • Chronic injuries from overuse

Besides muscle and joint injuries, concussions may need return-to-play rehabilitation. It takes many tests to determine if you're ready to return to play. Your doctor will see if you're ready by testing your pain levels, range of motion, agility, balance and core strength. They'll also monitor you to make sure you don't run with a limp if you had a lower body injury. Being injured is stressful. Your doctor may also need to determine if you're mentally ready to return to play.

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