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When is it Safe to Return to Sports After an Injury?

How do I know it's safe to return to play?


Updated May 16, 2014

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Return to Sports Guidelines

If you have had a recent injury one of your main concerns may be how soon you can return to sports . The answer to this question is not always easy because each athlete and each injury is unique. Returning too soon can increase your risk of re-injury or developing a chronic problem that will lead to a longer recovery. Waiting too long, however, can lead to unnecessary deconditioning.

Proper Conditioning Aids Injury Recover Time

One thing that can improve your recovery from an injury is a high level of conditioning prior to injury. Not only will being in great shape reduce your risk of injury and lessen the severity of an injury, but it also has been shown to reduce recovery time.

How to Speed Injury Recovery Time

Phases of Injury Recovery

During the acute recovery phase you should be following the R.I.C.E. principles (rest, ice, compression and elevation), limiting your activity, allowing yourself time to heal. Depending on the type and severity of your injury, treatment may also include medical care, surgery, various taping, bracing, or physical therapy treatments.

While your injury heals try to maintain overall conditioning if possible. Try alternate forms of training such as water running, swimming, cycling, rowing or weight training of the non-injured parts. (See: Training Through Injuries).

Regaining range of motion and strength should be started as soon as possible as directed by your physician or therapist. Use discomfort as a guide and avoid movements that cause pain. Once muscle strength and flexibility return you can slowly get back into your sport, working at about 50 to 70 percent max capacity for a few weeks. During this re-entry phase, functional drills for balance, agility, and speed can be added as tolerated.

Guidelines for Safe Return to Sports

  • You are pain free
  • You have no swelling
  • You have full range of motion (compare the injured part with the uninjured opposite side)
  • You have full or close to full (90 percent) strength (compare with the uninjured side)
  • For lower body injuries - you can perform full weight bearing on injured hips, knees, and ankles without limping
  • For upper body injuries - you can perform throwing movements with proper form and no pain

Keep in mind that even when you feel 100 percent you may have deficits in strength, joint stability, flexibility or skill. Take extra care with the injured part for several months.

* These are guidelines only; you should follow your physician's advice regarding return to sports.


Return To Play Criteria. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

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