Sports Injury Rehabilitation Techniques for Athletes

Injuries are an extremely prevalent outcome, both in recreational and competitive sports alike. While there are injury prevention protocols that can and should be implemented, injuries, both mild and severe, are never out of the realm of possibility.

Because of the inevitability of injury in sports, rehabilitation programs are necessary for an athlete’s regimen. Not only do rehabilitation techniques aid in the general recovery and healing of injuries, but they also promote improved stability, movement mechanics, and range of motion after full recovery has been achieved.

A rehabilitation program combines the functions of physiotherapy, sports physiology, orthopedic surgery, and pharmacology.  These programs are crucial for allowing an athlete to return to peak form and begin participating in sport again. The organization of rehabilitation protocols depends on several factors, including the type and severity of the injury and the athlete’s health status and activity level.

Without a proper rehabilitation program, injuries can worsen, damage can become more severe, and secondary injuries can occur as a result. That’s why it’s imperative that you consult with a trusted, reliable, and experienced medical professional for the proper evaluation, diagnosis, recommendation, and treatment recommendation that’s most suitable for your situation.

The following will be a general discussion about sport-related injury rehabilitation, its goals and objectives, and specific techniques for effective healing and complete recovery of a given injury.

Common Sports-Related Injuries

Common injury types amongst athletes are those related to joints and surrounding areas. Joints are extremely vulnerable and susceptible to injury due to their role in movement and skeletal support.

Because of its responsibility for movement, range of motion, and stability, joints are typically the first area of the body to be impacted by injury when placed in compromised positions or under stressful environments.

For example, the sport of football, in which athletes attempt to tackle other athletes, leads to impact on joints from any direction, and the impact is often applied to a joint in a compromised position. 

Of the most common sports-related injuries, the shoulders, knees, and ankles are some of the most vulnerable regions of the body.

The following are some of the most common injury types in sporting events that often require some level of rehabilitation:

  • Sprains (Ankle Sprain, Knee Sprain, Wrist Sprain)
  • Strains
  • Tears (Rotator Cuff Tear, ACL Tear, Achilles Tendon Rupture)
  • Fractures (Ankle Fracture, Patellar Fracture)
  • Dislocations (Shoulder Dislocation)
  • Separations (AC Joint Separation)

Depending on the injury type and severity level, a specific rehabilitation protocol will be required.

While a sprain, for example, will likely only require at-home self-care and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, tears and fractures will often require more complex surgical procedures, physical therapy, stronger pain medication, and regular monitoring of progress by a physician to reach the same end-goal of complete restoration and recovery.

A Step-By-Step Guide Towards Rehabilitation

No matter the injury or severity level, the rehabilitation process requires a multidisciplinary approach. The following is an example of a step-by-step guide for rehabilitation that athletes and sports medicine specialists will often follow to achieve the best outcomes.

  • Step 1: Diagnosis
  • Step 2: Attend to Inflammation
  • Step 3: Promote Primary Healing (Rehabilitation Exercise, Pain Management)
  • Step 4: Improve Fitness (Sport Specific Training & General Conditioning)
  • Step 5: Control Physical Stressors & Prevent Re-Injury

Throughout the duration of the rehabilitation process, it’s encouraged to focus on the quality of activity rather than quantity. Just as overtraining can cause initial injury, it can also result in poor recovery and an unsatisfactory rehabilitation outcome.

Goals of Rehabilitation

The primary aim of injury rehabilitation is an imminent return to sport in peak form and a focus on preventing re-injury.

The best methodology in rehabilitation uses goal identification and the creation of a roadmap to that goal.  Along the way, the athlete will need encouragement and motivation since they can always be at risk of becoming discouraged.  The rehabilitation process can be quite draining, both physically and mentally, for the athlete. Therefore, a constant positive focus on achieving the goal and reaching the destination is critical for success.

The following are the primary goals of an effective rehabilitation program:

  • Regaining Stability After Injury
  • Regaining Normal Movement After Injury
  • Restoring Function & Performance to Pre-Injury Levels
  • Encouraging Safe Return to Sport
  • Minimizing Risks of Re-Injury

Once all of these goals and objectives have been met, the rehabilitation process is all but complete. It’s now the physician’s job to monitor progress frequently and ensure the athlete follows preventative measures. The athlete must play their part by actively following the recommendations outlined by their physician to ensure a safe return to sport with the new target of health and longevity.

Final Thoughts

All severely injured athletes, as well as non-athletes, can benefit from rehabilitation programs. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that 2.4 billion individuals globally live with an injury or health condition that could benefit from rehabilitation. This number will certainly increase in the years to come.

Rehabilitation markedly assists in recovery and healing, and it reduces time away from athletic participation.  The process focuses on retraining proper movement mechanics and encourages the overall health and well-being of the athlete, both mentally and physically.

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