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Home Performance Prevention When is it Safe to Play Sports After an Injury?

When is it Safe to Play Sports After an Injury?

E-mail Print PDF Topic #383

Football season has begun, and school is back in session, meaning your bodies are in for another long season. Unfortunately this also means injuries may happen, and we need to know how to prevent it, and afterwards, when to come back.
Knowing when to return is not always easy because each athlete, and each injury, is 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 de-conditioning.
One thing that can improve your recovery from an injury is a high level of conditioning prior to injury. Not only will being in great shape reduce your risk of injury and lessen the severity of an injury, but it also has been shown to reduce recovery time.

The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine offers the following tips to speed your recovery time:

  • Maintain year round balanced physical conditioning
  • Make sure that injuries are recognized early and treated promptly.
  • Participate in a full functional rehabilitation program.
  • Stay fit while injured and work out your other muscles. 
  • Keep a positive, upbeat attitude.
  • Phases of Recovery
    Allow yourself time to heal. During the acute recovery phase you should be following the R.I.C.E. principles: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, along with limited activity. Depending on the type and severity of your injury, treatment may also include a visit to a physician, various taping, bracing, or physical therapy treatments.
    While you allow your injured body part to heal, you should try to maintain overall conditioning if possible. Try alternate forms of training such as water running, swimming, cycling, rowing or weight training of the non-injured parts.

    Regaining range of motion and strength should be begun as tolerated or as directed by your physican or trainer. Use discomfort as a guide and avoid movements that cause pain. Once muscle strength and flexibility return you can slowly get back into your sport, working at about 50 to 70 percent max capacity for a few weeks. During this re-entry phase, functional drills for balance, agility, and speed can be added as tolerated.

    The following guidelines can help you determine if it's safe for you to start playing your sport again.

    • You are pain free
    • You have full range of motion (compare the injured part with the uninjured opposite side)
    • You have full or close to full (90 percent) strength (again, compare with the uninjured side)
    • You have no swelling
    • For lower body injuries: you can perform full weight bearing on injured hips, knees, and ankles without limping
    • For upper body injuries: you can perform throwing movements with proper form and no pain


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

    *These are only guidelines and you should follow your physician's advice regarding return to play.

    information from E. Quinn,