When can an athlete return to sport after an injury?

Physical therapists who treat professional athletes and weekend warriors are often faced with the challenge of rehabilitating a patient after a sports-related injury.

Expert clinicians met to discuss the best way to do this at the First World Congress in Physical Therapy held last year Bern, Switzerland, and now their results have been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The article, published as a consensus statement, defines what return to sport (RTS) means, what models can guide the process and summarizes any evidence to support RTS decision-making.

The expert panel agreed that a successful return to sport can mean different things to different people. It could mean getting back to your weekly bike rides in the shortest possible time. It could also mean returning to pre-injury levels of participation in a sport and the prevention of new injuries.

While there was consensus on the need for athletes and their care teams to consider biological, social and psychological factors as they work towards returning to sport, there was little evidence to support return to sport decisions in clinical practice.

There is specific criteria for some of the most common sports injuries, which are outlined in the paper, however these are not based on solid scientific evidence. The expert clinicians could not come to an agreement on criteria for RTS for acute knee and hamstring injuries, and groin, achilles tendon and shoulder injuries.

In summary, the paper states:

“RTS criteria for many common injuries are not based on solid scientific evidence. Future research should focus on a standardised approach to defining, measuring and reporting of RTS outcomes, and on identifying the prognostic factors for RTS.”

Read the article