After an extended period of time away from sport, the incidence and risk of injury increase upon return. Take for example the incidence of injury when coming back from another injury. It is why now many sports organizations and teams have been required to implement return to sport protocols for professional leagues. A major catalyze of this movement in sports was due to research published on concussions. This movement has trickled into amateur and youth sport.
Now, whether it is a concussion or sprained ankle, a series of tests and steps are (should) be carried out to clear an athlete for a return to play. The same is true when returning to play after an extended period of absence from play. For example, transitioning from the off-season to preseason. This period is critical to getting the athletes ready for game-like efforts. And in a similar sense, when youth sports programs and leagues return after an extended absence due to COVID 19, return to play procedures need to take place and be at the forefront to reduce injury and care for (excuse the pun) “Player’s Health.”
Common injuries that occur upon an extended absence are typically seen in an athlete’s lower limbs. Muscle strains and tears are the most prevalent, along with sprains. For example, following the 2011 NFL lockout, there was an increase in the incidence of lower limb injuries, in particular in the calf and heel region (Achilles tendon).
In sports that require repeated and highly specific movements, like a baseball pitcher or football quarterback, overuse injuries are possible due to the sudden increase in repeated movements. The body has not adapted to the once normal, repeated stress.
The incidence of concussions in combat sports like ice hockey, football and rugby, increases when one concussion has already been sustained. Thus increasing the importance of managing the risk of concussion in return to play, especially after a sustained period off and if any athletes of the team have sustained a concussion in the past.
The article gives practical tips to clubs and athletes on they can reduce the risk of injury when training sessions and games resume.
- During the COVID-19 restrictions, athletes should be prescribed to work on their individual weaknesses.
- A full medical examination relating to the demands of their sport should be undertaken to inform training progression upon return.
- If an athlete did contract COVID-19, their training resumption and progression should be very carefully managed. It is possible that their strength, muscle mass and the cardiorespiratory system might have been significantly impacted depending on severity.
- Reintroduction to training will require an individualized approach for athletes with pre-existing injuries, weakness and/or having contracted COVID-19.
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For more information on this topic, please review our Return to Play Research paper.