The considerations that regulate when an athlete is able to return to play after an injury includes indicators or readiness to return to play, monitoring progress, psychological readiness, specific warm up procedures, return to play policies and procedures as well as ethical considerations. It is imperative that an athlete’s injury has recovered, their fitness and skills are close to pre-injury levels and also that their confidence in their injury is 100%.
Training pain free and having full mobility return to the injured site are clear indicators of readiness for return to play. In order to measure an athlete’s readiness after returning from an injury they must go through various physical tests to test their fitness and basic skills needed to perform in their sport. For example, a netballer returning from an injured ankle would be tested on her agility through drills including side stepping and dogging. Her match fitness could be tested in a practice game situation at training provided she is pain free and has complete mobility.
Monitoring progress through both pre-tests and post-tests is essential to an athletes recovery in order to determine if they have or have not gained the necessary fitness and skills after injury. Ongoing tests, discussions between athlete and physio, visual observations of the athlete and video footage are all means which may be used to appropriately measure the athlete’s progress. Thus, appropriate pre and post tests can significantly help trainers to evaluate and develop particular training programs that will help to athlete return to play quicker after an injury. E.g A swimmer could monitor their progress of an injured arm by measuring the range of movement pre and post training.
An athlete’s psychological can be effectively measured by discussions between the athlete, coach and sports psychologist, visual observations and anxiety levels. An athlete returning to sport before they’re psychologically ready can lead to fear, anxiety, re-injury, depression and a decrease in performance. For example, a 100m sprinter who tore his hamstring from jumping out of the blocks may find it psychologically tough to reach their maximum force produced pre-injury.
An injured athlete may need to go through a more specific warm up and stretching routine in order to achieve maximum recovery and minimise the chance or re-injury. Thus, extra care and time at the injured site is crucial to ensuring that adequate blood flow, increased flexibility and readiness to perform occur. E.g A soccer player may need to do their own specific warm up program set by their physio separate to the team.
Return to play policies and procedures vary with sports, as they may be determined by overall governing bodies or by individual sporting clubs. However, coaches, sports administrators and sports medicine practitioners play a vital role in establishing guidelines for when an injured athlete can return or wether they can play with the injury. For example, a water polo player may need to get their pectoral injury cleared by their team physio in order play.
Ethical considerations play a vital role in determining when an athlete returns to play. Athletes ask themselves, ‘When is the right time to play?’ Unfortunately, there are internal and external pressures such as temptation, fear of losing their position on the team, pressure from sponsors and media as well as boredom, sometimes luring them into returning to play before they’re ready. Thus, this could easily lead to an athlete using painkillers or similar drugs from rapid advances in drug technology, in order to continue playing.