Returning to sport and preventing re-injury
Jade Webb AHTA Accredited Hand Therapist
As a lover of sport especially all sports that involve a ball; I know how tempting it can be to return to sport after an injury. But when do we return to sport and how do we prevent re–injury?
Firstly, and most importantly the injured tissues need time to heal. This will depend on what type of tissue is injured and to what extent. Time can vary greatly from 2 weeks to 3 months. A thorough assessment by a qualified practitioner in hand therapy will guide you as to when it is safe to resume sports. Returning to ball sports too soon can lead to further injury and increased time off the field.
It is important that you have full range of motion and flexibility of the joint/s when returning to sport. For example, your finger may interfere with holding or catching the ball and therefore it is more likely to get re injured. Your therapist can help to assess any restrictions in the movement of the joints and muscles and provide specific exercises to ensure you are ready to play.
Ensuring that the entire upper limb is mobile yet stable and strong allows for a smooth transition to returning to sport. After time off sport, muscles can become weak and a program directed at the entire upper limb should be included. Hand and finger strengthening using graded resistance putty or elastic bands can help to target muscles. Various exercises using weights, theraband, flexbars, body blades or body weight can be applied to your individualised program.
Other considerations include training your reaction time or ability to control movement, this is known as neuromuscular control. Sport requires that you can react suddenly and change position of your hand without hesitation. Special exercises can be provided that can test your ability to do this. Some examples are rolling or balancing a ball on a plate or using ball drills after a wrist injury. Other tools which your therapist might use include slosh pipes and powerballs to keep your rehabilitation engaging.
In some circumstances taping can be demonstrated, so that you can apply it independently when you play to help provide support of the previously injured part. There are many products available and your therapist can help to determine which product will be the most beneficial for you to use. Taping techniques include restricting motion in all directions or in specific directions only. For example, it can be helpful for the finger to be able to bend but not straighten completely after a hyperextension or dislocation type injury. However, in general taping won’t stop you from getting hurt or re-injuring, but it may provide you with comfort and confidence. Appropriate rehabilitation is the key.
Finally, it may be worth reviewing your technique specific to your sporting activities. This is particularly important if you have an overuse type injury. This assessment might be done in conjunction with your coach to ensure any predisposing factors are addressed. Catching and throwing technique may need to be reviewed. Sometimes technique modification and a gradual return to sport in a controlled manner are required.
I recommend you seek out your local practitioner in hand therapy today, or search for them on the AHTA website to gain a comprehensive assessment of your injury and assistance with your return to your chosen sport.