“Doctor, how long before I can get back in the game?” When treating athletes for back injuries, this is one of the most common questions we hear. They’re often not as concerned about the extent of the damage to their back as to how soon they can return to sports after their back injury! From a certain perspective, it’s the mark of a true athlete.
Unfortunately, there’s no cut-and-dried answer to this question. The back is a complex area of the body with many important moving parts, and a back injury can take many forms involving those parts. For mild injuries, an athlete might retake the field in a matter of days or weeks; for major problems involving surgery, for example, it could take months before it’s safe to return. The actual amount of time it takes an athlete to recover depends on a number of factors, including:
- The severity of the injury
- The type of injury
- The type of treatment required for the injury (e.g., surgery, physical therapy, or injections)
- The athlete’s physical condition and overall health at the time of the injury
- The type of sport (e.g., low impact, high impact, contact)
- Whether the athlete can avoid aggravating the injury during recovery
A Balancing Act for Athletes
Granted, an athlete walks a fine line when dealing with a back injury, or any other type of physical injury, for that matter. If she spends too much time in the recovery process, she could gradually lose her conditioning and have that much more ground to make up once she’s cleared to play. On the other hand, if she tries to get back into the action too soon and aggravates her injury in the process, not only could it take even longer for her to heal, but she could actually cause permanent damage from which she’ll never be able to fully recover. Knowing that “sweet spot” when it’s safe to return to play requires a combination of being in tune with your own body and listening to your doctor.
Tips to Accelerate the Recovery Process
To minimize your “down time” after a back injury, do the following:
- Listen to your body. If it still hurts, it’s not healed. Don’t use it.
- Do what you can do to stay in shape. Talk to your doctor about physical exercises and activities to help you stay conditioned without aggravating your injury.
- Eat well and sleep well. Give your body the nutrients and rest it needs in order to heal itself.
- Ease back in slowly. Once your doctor begins clearing you for certain activities, don’t rush in. Start with slow, low-impact activities and gradually increase their intensity.
By listening to the doctor and practicing these tips, athletes stand a much better chance of a rapid, safe recovery so they can return to sports after their back injury. To learn more about treatment and recovery options, call Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center today at 404-256-2633.