Serious injuries are becoming all too common with young athletes. Injuries, sometimes requiring surgeries, are more prevalent and most parents and athletes are ignoring the significance of them.
It is rare when a young athlete is put on the right path to return to sport. Ideally, it would look like the example below.
Specialty doctor -> Physical Therapist -> Qualified Performance Coach
Starting with the specialty doctor allows the proper expert to handle the situation. Sometimes this is obvious like in the case of an ACL tear. The athlete can then go to physical therapy to receive the proper treatment for rehab.
The step most people will skip is performance training. A lot of athletes go from PT back to sport even though they might not be ready for it.
The main reason for this is that healed does not mean ready to return to sport.
The goal of the doctor is to address the problem through medicine or surgery. The goal of PT is to bring the athlete back to normal function.
The goal of the performance coach is to increase the athlete’s performance. Somehow we get lost in the idea that once the doctor says that the injury is healing normally, it means good to go 100 mph.
How Injuries Affect Performance
Injuries are problematic for a number of ways.
One is that strength becomes compromised. Most athletes are not nearly strong enough for the amount of stress they put on their bodies. When an athlete is injured they are unable to train.
Injuries make an athlete weaker, the longer the linger. If strength levels drop, the risk for a new injury are very high. Physical Therapy is not for aggressive resistance training. Once an athlete meets certain standards or runs out of visits on insurance, PT is done.
The problem is that athletes need to be stronger than they were before the injury but more often than not go back to sport weaker.
Injuries are also responsible for changing mechanics. Most people will try to favor their good side, to get away from the injured side. This can also increase the risk of injury on the opposite side.
Jumping, running, and landing all need to be re-trained after an injury. This is no easy task. Without proper strength, it is very difficult to bring balance to the body.
How this all ties in becomes interesting when we remember that injuries have to heal before we can train. When a joint is injured, the body stops sending messages to the surrounding muscles. This is a protective mechanism in the body.
If the muscles do not work, we cannot train them to be strong. It takes a lot of time for this to come back, depending on the injury and individual. To truly train for strength, the athlete needs to completely heal.
Too often, athletes are allowed to return to sport without being completely healed. They are usually healed enough to pass standards to move on to the next stage of recovery.
An athlete can successfully return to sport by continuing to train for their performance. Most athletes are going to go back to their sport before they should and that is just how this works. It only becomes a real issue when they stop training altogether.
The best way to recover safely and effectively is to continue strength training. They should also be training to jump, sprint, land, and change direction with good technique. When the technique is good we can start to add layers onto the speed and agility work. Power and explosive training can be added when strength levels have risen.
This strategy will help reduce the risk for a future injury by stopping training altogether. The athlete will also need less time to get back to their pre-injury state. No one that suffers a real injury is the same by the time the next season rolls around. It is to their benefit to heal, train, and continue to train while returning.