It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the middle of prepping for the state championship, training for a marathon, or you just like to play a little pickup basketball on Sunday afternoons. If you’re an active person, there’s no good time for an injury—and the time away from the game can be even more agonizing than the pain itself.
Unfortunately, the consequences of ignoring an injury and playing through pain—or jumping the gun on returning to play—can be even worse. Ensuring that you’re fully rehabilitated physically, and mentally prepared to return, is of critical importance. If you don’t, you greatly risk worsening the original injury, or turning it into a chronic problem that can plague you for months or even years down the road.
Here’s our simple guide to getting back in the game as safely, quickly, and intelligently as possible.
Keep Yourself in Good Shape
Okay, this one admittedly won’t be much use to you if you’re already hurt. But file it away for future reference, so that if and when there is a “next time,” the recovery can go more smoothly.
Staying active and maintaining fitness and conditioning year-round, of course, will help you prevent injuries in the first place, thanks to stronger muscles, more flexible and limber joints, and the like. However, it also helps you recover faster when you do get hurt. If you’re healthy, your body can make more efficient use of oxygen and nutrients, and natural metabolism and repair mechanisms can work more effectively.
An important point— “keeping yourself in good shape” doesn’t necessarily mean a 10-mile run every weekend, or playing in multiple sports leagues all year long. Three hours of moderate exercise per week—even brisk walking—can make a huge difference.
Take All Injuries Seriously
One of the first and biggest mistakes many of our foot and ankle sports injury patients make is underestimating the seriousness of their injury. They’ll run on stress fractures even though the pain gets worse and worse every day. They’ll try to “walk off” a sprain, or they’ll try to manage a sprain at home (without realizing their ankle is actually broken).
When they finally come in for an appointment after weeks of discomfort, the problem is a lot worse and more difficult to treat than it would have been if they just came to us at the beginning.
Any kind of traumatic injury—like a sprain, broken bone, or tendon tear—should be a pretty obvious sign that you need immediate treatment. Chronic injuries that develop over time, like heel pain or stress fractures, are more likely to fly under the radar for your typical athlete. You ought to be able to distinguish between a little temporary soreness or stiffness (normal) and pain that is persistent, or lingers well after the end of activity, or functionally limits your ability to play as hard or as long as you would like.
True pain is not normal and should never be shrugged off. Better safe than sorry—give us a call, come in for a visit, and we’ll take a look.
Seek Out a Specialist
No, we’re not dissing your general practitioner. We’re sure he or she is an awesome doctor. But if you truly want the best care for your injury—so that you can return to play as quickly as possible, with the lowest risk—you’re going to want somebody with extensive experience diagnosing and treating your specific condition.
That might be a sports injury doctor, orthopedic surgeon, or neurologist depending on the nature of your injury. Of course, if the pain is located in your feet or ankles, we would suggest a podiatrist, such as your humble blogger.
We work exclusively on the lower extremity and offer comprehensive care for any and all conditions that can emerge. That includes lots of sports injury concerns, as you might imagine considering the active community we live in. At Advanced Foot & Ankle, we can offer our athletes advanced treatment options such as laser-based therapy and custom orthotics.
Stick to the Plan. SERIOUSLY, Stick to the Plan.
We know. The temptation to cheat can be very strong. It is just plain hard to sit on the sidelines while your friends play on. It is especially difficult when you really do feel like you’re getting better, and you’re itching to increase your activity level.
But it’s important to stick to the plan laid out by your doctor, even if you think it’s a little, shall we say, overly cautious. The “not quite fully rehabilitated” phase is especially ripe for setbacks and re-injuries. Plus, if you don’t follow through with your rehab, you might not make a complete return to 100%, and that leaves you open to more injuries weeks or even months later.
Stress fractures are among the worst injuries for this kind of situation, as the symptoms can clear up weeks before the bones actually fully heal. But many other injuries can fit the category, too.
Mental Fitness Is Important, Too
Sometimes, even when after you’ve regained your physical health and have received medical clearance to play, your head just might not be in the game.
Sometimes, it’s a question of losing a little bit of sharpness and coordination as a result of missing time—you feel a little sluggish on the field, or the game seems to be moving a bit faster than you remember. In other cases, you might feel especially tentative, anxious, or hesitant, especially in athletic situations similar to the one that caused your injury.
These feelings are very normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. But you also have to be willing to admit when your head isn’t in the game and seek some additional help, whether that’s from a coach, athletic trainer, parent, or counselor. Mental preparedness is just as important as physical preparedness when it comes to playing your best and avoiding injuries.
Once your head and body are back in the game, you’re ready to play! While it’s always tough to miss time, the goal is to come back just as strong—or stronger—and better prepared to avoid future problems. If a nagging injury to your feet or ankles is holding you back, don’t wait another day. Give us a call at (208) 731-6321