COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When an athlete becomes injured, coaches and physicians face the question “When can I play again?” the answer is a safe, successful and timely return to sports goes beyond physical rehabilitation.
“The psychological aspects to return to play cannot be minimized,” said Dr. Thomas Best, chief of the division of sports medicine at Ohio State University Medical Center.
Thomas Best, M.D., Ph.D.
He said the athlete’s state of mind is important to the recuperation process and can potentially explain why some athletes return to play more quickly from injury than others.
“To an athlete, an injury is a loss in many ways,” said Best, who has studied the return to play issues affecting athletes. “When you take someone away from an environment where he or she is comfortable and thriving, this can lead to anxiety and depression.”
To ensure the well-being of the athlete, it is suggested physicians use a personalized team-approach that is tailor-made for the individual and takes into account not only current and previous injuries, but the type of sport the athlete plays.
“Return to play is sport and athlete specific, and you sometimes cannot predict a particular recipe of when an athlete is going to come back,” Best said.
Incorporating physical therapists, athletic trainers, coaches, parents and teammates into the treatment and rehabilitation process is crucial for the injured athlete.
“Around the world we are recognizing that the team approach is so valuable because it’s the athletic trainers and physical therapists who are with these athletes on a day-to-day basis,” Best said. “When an athlete sees everyone he or she trusts working as a team, it helps in terms of building confidence and adjusting more easily when returning to play.”
Best said the longer athletes are away from their sport, the more challenging and difficult it can be for them to return. He said it’s important that physicians be empathetic to the athletes’ situation and show they recognize the physical and emotional trauma behind a potential career-ending injury.
“Part of what we struggle with is once the athlete has resumed full strength and full range of motion of an injured body part, we assume he or she is ready to go. There are many physicians who only implement those parameters and may not be looking closely enough at the psychological aspects of return to play,” Best said.# # #
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