When you sustain an injury playing sport your priority is to do everything you can to get back out there. When you see a physio they will diagnose your injury, estimate the timeline of recovery and give you the necessary tools to help you return to sport.
It is one thing to be playing your sport again injury free, but it is another thing to regain the athleticism you need to perform well. It is well documented that after a serious injury, people struggle to perform at the same level they have before.
Despite being cleared by their physios, only one in three people return to sport after ACL reconstruction (serious knee injury). Hence is it critical that you are taken on a journey from injury to performance.
In this article we will dissect the five key areas that will help you regain athleticism after an injury.
1. HOW TO Regaining Strength
Most people know that after an injury you will become weaker, and therefore need to do exercises to regain their strength. Injuries create weakness in a number of different ways, which are listed below:
time spent offloading the injured area
pain inhibits muscles - it interferes with the muscles ability to function
other muscles will take over to offload the injured area
the injured tissue is compromised and therefore cannot function as per normal (e.g. muscle strain)
All of these factors contribute to muscle atrophy otherwise known as the wasting of muscle. To regain this muscle, you need to exercise it. Physios will often use the uninjured side as a benchmark for where you need to get your strength back to.
For example, to return to sport after an ACL injury most testing protocols require your injured side to be within 5% of the uninjured side.
If relative symmetry between sides is not regained, compensations will occur. These compensations will likely affect athletic performance, and also lead to an increased injury risk. The earlier you regain symmetry in your rehab process, the less likely you will develop unfavourable compensation patterns.
Here at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy we use the latest technology to identify your weaknesses. Check out the Axit System here.
2. Considering technique
When you are injured, your body will default to finding the path of least resistance. If you pay attention to how you move when performing rehab exercises, you will pick up the compensations that occur. If they are not dealt with early, they can be difficult to reverse and by the time you get back to sport they become a problem.
Your physio should bring your attention to these compensations and help you work on reversing them. It is helpful to go into your rehab ready to look and feel for any tricks your body might be throwing at you. Here are some of the common ones we see:
foot turned out walking and jumping
not distributing weight evenly with double leg exercises
hips aren’t level
3. HOW TO DO Sports Specific Rehab
Regaining strength symmetry and paying attention to technique will set you up well for the final stages of your rehab. It will also go a long way to help prevent any future injuries. But if you want to regain athleticism, you will need to train in a way that is specific to your sport.
The best way to do this is to work backwards from what is required of you to perform well in your sport.
This is called reverse engineering, where you break down the components of your sport so that you can identify how you need to train.
Take soccer for example - you need to be fast, agile and powerful, and you need to be prepared to do this in every direction. Early stage rehab exercises don’t get a great wrap for being any of these things.
So if the latter stages of your rehab don’t emulate the components that are needed to perform in your sport, you won’t regain your athleticism.
Specific return to sport testing
If you are not testing, you are guessing! As you are getting close to returning to sport, your physio will take you through a series of assessments to ensure you are ready to go.
All the elite sporting teams run their athletes through rigorous testing after an injury as they know that this will reduce the risk of injury and maximise performance. Some of these tests will be specific to the sport by testing the key components required (remember - reverse engineering).
For example, a soccer return to play assessment needs to involve agility testing. You can be strong and powerful but if that doesn’t translate into being agile on a soccer field, you aren’t going to be at your best.
See here an example of testing that is done throughout an ACL rehab process, which includes the end-stage return to sport testing.
Spending the time re-integrating back into training
This part is simple and very effective - but too often it is overlooked. The best way to prepare to perform for your sport is to spend time doing it.
Doing exercises that emulate your sport will be helpful, but this alone will not be enough to prepare you to perform well. Unfortunately if you return to your sport at full capacity too soon, you will risk injury.
This return to sport phase needs to be drawn out over a number of weeks - from doing part-training to playing a full game.
Make sure you sit down with your physio to map out this return to play plan. We often see people do all the hard work in their rehab only to return to playing too quickly and get injured.
If you have sustained a sporting injury and want to return to sport performing at your best, then book in with one of our expert physiotherapists. Book here.
How can we help you?
At Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy our goal is to get you moving pain free as soon as possible.
But, we also want you to actually move better and live a healthier, more active and fulfilling life!
If your sports, fitness training or work has been wearing your body down, book in with one of our expert massage therapists so we can help you reduce your pain or stiffness.
If you are showing some signs of this condition or simply want help prevent this from happening in the future then book in with one of our highly experienced Remedial Massage Therapists today!