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Return to your sport through physical therapy

Athletes are always finding new ways to push their bodies to the extreme, and at some point, all eventually find their limit. When one finds that limit, it unfortunately often results in an injury. The million-dollar question is always, "when can I return to my sport?" This is a very complex question, but we will provide some guidance to help your decision. Keep in mind that returning to your sport too soon after an injury can make you prone to reinjury and possible lifelong complications and chronic conditions. On the other hand, waiting too long to return to your sport can lead to deconditioning.


The baseline of an athlete significantly affects the ability to return to their prior level of function. Professional athletes are not the standard! It is a professional athlete’s job to rehab their injury; they work on it 6-8 hours a day with skilled trainers, not 3x a week for 1 hour each session.

Is your injury due to a traumatic event, or was it caused by overuse? Overuse injuries typically heal more quickly and may resolve with conservative methods, such as physical therapy and over-the-counter treatments. Traumatic injuries typically require a longer recovery period, often taking months before you can return to playing your sport again.


Severe pain requires an immediate medical evaluation; do not wait. Mild to moderate pain usually means that the injury is not severe. However, an internal injury oftentimes doesn’t cause much, if any pain, which is why it’s so important to have a medical evaluation if you have experienced blunt-force trauma – such as a skiing injury in which you fell and hit your head.

If your mild to moderate pain does not improve with over-the-counter treatments after about a week, see a physical therapist before it becomes a chronic condition. You are now able to see a physical therapist without a physician referral in all 50 states. The best way to start physical therapy today is to contact your local FYZICAL to schedule an initial evaluation. Our skilled Client Care Specialists will work with you on how to best navigate with your insurance company to assure you receive the maximum available benefit.


It has been suggested that returning to sport should be viewed as a continuum, alongside recovery and rehabilitation. At the point of return to sport, physiological healing should have occurred. Parameters such as pain, swelling, range of motion and strength should be assessed, and the athlete should have minimal or no deficits. Having a previous injury predisposes an athlete to re-injury. This means that an injured athlete who returns to competition before sufficient recovery and reconditioning would be at an increased risk of injury.

Here are a few indicators that it’s safe to return to playing sports after your injury and recovery:

  • Absence of pain.
  • Absence of swelling and inflammation.
  • Restoration of full range of motion.
  • Regained strength.
  • Weight-bearing on injured area without an effect.

Even if the pain has subsided, reintroduce activities slowly.

  • Be honest about your abilities: Many athletes are afraid to be honest if they are hurting and rush to return to their sport.  Even worse, you could increase your risk of further injury.
  • Focus on building strength: Strength training is extremely important. It can help you become faster, stronger, and more agile on the field. It can also help you recover more quickly after an injury.
  • Listen to your body: If something doesn't feel right, pay attention to it. Talk to your athletic trainer or a physical therapist to get to the bottom of what doesn’t feel right and put a plan in place to address it.


The decision to return to play for a professional athlete is not made in isolation, so the same should go for a weekend warrior. A variety of personnel, including the medical team, physical therapist, coach, and family should all have some type of input. According to Magee, “the most difficult decision the sports medicine team makes is whether and when the athlete should be allowed to return to competition" (Magee, 2011)[1].

Returning to sport can mean different things for each individual athlete, depending on the sport and the level of participation the athlete aims to return to. It is suggested to be a continuum consisting of:

  1. Return to participation - the athlete may be participating in rehabilitation or sport but at a level lower than the desired goal, but not yet "ready" medically, physically and/or psychologically.
  2. Return to sport - the athlete has returned to sport, but not at his or her target level of performance.
  3. Return to performance - the athlete has returned to his or her sport and is performing at or better than pre-injury level.

The single most important factor when making the decision to return to participation/sport/performance is safety. Now there are many factors, proposed by Herring et al, which need to be taken into consideration, but they all come back to safety:

  1. Safety of the athlete.
  2. Potential risk to the safety of other team members.
  3. Performing functional capabilities safely in a controlled environment which are required by their sport.

Some of the risks of returning to sport too soon were best outlined by Brukner and Khan (2016)[2], which may result in negative effects such as:

  1. Loss of trust.
  2. A decline in sports participation rates as some persons have a fear of re-injury although the level of risk is acceptable.
  3. Serious medical complications due to some players returning to activity while they are still at an unacceptable level of risk to repeat a sport-related injury. 

At FYZICAL Bradenton Central, we understand how important it is to get back to your sport and normal level of activity. Our physical therapists will perform a comprehensive evaluation, and then build a tailored sports rehabilitation treatment plan. This plan will consist of hands-on care and functional exercises which will help alleviate your pain, improve range of motion, build endurance and strength and restore function to pre-injury levels. In addition, we’ll educate you on how to minimize the risk of re-injury in the future. Whether you’re a professional athlete or weekend warrior, we can help you recover from your sports injury and get you back to doing what you love!

By: Dr. Keith Sobkowiak, PT, DPT, COMT, Titleist Performance Institute Certified
Regional Director Assistant of Connecticut


  1. Magee DJ, Zachazewski JE, Quillen WS, Manske RC. Athletic and Sport Issues in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation-E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2010.
  2. Brukner P. Brukner & Khan’s clinical sports medicine: McGraw-Hill; 2016.
  3. Ardern CL, Glasgow P, Schneiders A, et al 2016 Consensus statement on return to sport from the First World Congress in Sports Physical Therapy, Bern. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2016; 50:853-864.