Getting Back In The Game After Sports Injuries

Expectations, safety are keys to recovery

One of the great ironies of sports is how injuries can sometimes become the signature, enduring memories of the world’s biggest sporting events.

New York Knicks center Willis Reed, suffering from a torn muscle in his thigh, limping onto the Madison Square Garden court just before the deciding Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals as the home crowd erupted in wild cheers, is the stuff of basketball lore. Reed’s team would go on to win the championship, further cementing his inspirational legacy.

Even in resounding defeat, the image of an injured athlete lingers. In the 1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona, Britain’s medal hopeful 400-meter runner, Derek Redmond, collapsed in a heap on the track in his semi-final heat after tearing his hamstring.

What happened next brought the crowd to its feet. As Redmond hobbled around the track toward the finish line 200 meters away, Redmond’s father, Jim Redmond, hustled out of the stands and fought through security to reach his son.

Jim Redmond wrapped his arms around his son 120 meters from completing the race and helped him limp to the finish line as the crowd roared its approval, leaving many in tears. Jim Redmond would tell the press afterward he is the proudest father alive.

“I’m prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal,” Jim Redmond said. “It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did.”

The prevalence of injury

Yet ask any athlete, and they will gladly say they would rather not be famous for being injured. Whether it’s a top Olympian, a Little League player, or a casual runner, golfer, or tennis player, injury is definitely a six-letter word to avoid.

Upwards of 4 million children and adults are treated each year in emergency rooms for sports injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That doesn’t count the millions more who don’t seek emergency medical attention for injuries considered less minor yet still debilitating and painful.

The recovery

Sports physical therapy is more than returning athletes to the game, competition, or exercise that drives their passion. It’s also about returning the athlete to a higher level of ability or function.

Mike Satterley, PT, DPT, CIMT, CMTPT, CSCS, Director of the Sports Therapy Program at Tidewater Physical Therapy in Newport News, knows well the challenges and rewards of helping athletes recover from injuries.

“The art of sports physical therapy is all about balancing the individual’s capacity for sport with where they are in their healing process,” Satterley said. “Every day that treatment is delayed for an athlete, it’s one more day that the player isn’t getting back to it or helping their team.”

While athletes may be working hard through sports therapy to get back to the competition as soon as possible, the general population that exercises or plays sports for fun and with less intensity can take a longer view.

“For example, a total knee replacement patient is usually older and these patients just want to be able to walk, go up and down stairs, get in and out of a car, and do other hobbies, such as gardening, that do not require high demands on the entire body,” Satterley said.

“Now, on the other hand, a basketball player with an ACL tear needs immediate attention. The appropriate diagnostic testing needs to be done to give an appropriate diagnosis to determine whether a patient needs surgery, physical therapy, training room rehabilitation, or other options.”

Athletes have a head start

One benefit for the athlete is they typically heal faster than a sedentary person. Motivation to get back in the game feeds a desire to comply with and work hard in rehabilitation.

“In addition,” Satterley said, “athletes for the most part have better fitness from a cardiopulmonary standpoint, a nutrition standpoint, and a musculoskeletal standpoint, which all help in their own ways to a more efficient return to maximal potential.”

Throughout the healing and rehabilitation process, sports physical therapists will be communicating with patients the expectations for their recovery, including how soon they can return to competition, Satterley said. Safety and recovering without re-injury are a priority. “If the expectation is made known and is accepted from the beginning, the journey is usually much better,” he said.

Finding a Physical Therapist

Many of the physical therapists at Tidewater Physical Therapy Inc. hold Direct Access Certification through the Virginia Board of Physical Therapy allowing them to evaluate and treat patients without a prescription. As part of your healthcare team, a physical therapist will make an assessment of your condition and create a plan to start you on the road to wellness. Our team will communicate with your physician of record and obtain a referral, if necessary, for your continued treatment. We will also work with your insurance carrier to make sure services are covered by your plan. To make your own appointment, find a clinic near you.