When considering regenerative injection therapy to treat a sports-related injury, the top priority initially is to alleviate the pain and heal the injury itself. After the healing begins, however, the nagging question for most athletes is when they will be able to start playing or competing again. It’s important to understand that returning to sports after regenerative injection therapy is a gradual process — one that parallels the healing process itself. If you jump ahead of the process, you could injure the affected area again or prolong the recovery period.
How soon will I be able to return to sports?
That depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the injury, your body’s response time to the treatment and whether you can avoid aggravating the injury in the interim. Your doctor will be able to estimate a timetable for recovery based on these factors, but in the meantime, the following guide should serve as a sort of roadmap to recovery so you can track your progress, and so you’ll know what to expect along the way.
As you and your doctor formulate a plan for recovery and your eventual return to sports, you’ll want to keep the following principles in mind as they hold true throughout the healing process:
- Everything happens gradually. Regenerative injection therapy is not a miracle treatment that heals you. It is a proven treatment that enables your body to heal itself faster than it normally would — but that process still occurs gradually over time, not overnight. By the same token, your recovery and return to active sports will also occur gradually.
- The absence of pain is not a sign of full recovery. When the pain subsides at the point of injury, the initial impulse for many athletes is to jump back into their routines, assuming the lack of pain means their injury is healed. With regenerative injection therapy, especially, you must resist this urge or risk disrupting the entire healing process. The absence of pain simply means the inflammation has stopped. The newly regenerating tissues will still be young and weak; they must be strengthened over time before you start subjecting them to stress.
- Your regeneration therapy may occur in stages. Depending on the extent of your injuries, your doctor may recommend several treatments over the course of a few months, during which time you’ll need to follow the recovery process below several times.
The First Two Weeks After Injection
During the first 48 hours or so following your regenerative injection treatment, you may experience some pain and swelling at the injury site. This is a normal physical response caused by inflammation, meaning the body is beginning the process of healing those tissues. We recommend keeping the injured area relatively immobile through the first week of recovery after the injection — even after the pain and swelling begin to subside. After the first week, you should be able to resume most normal activities, but refrain from any active exercise of the injury site until your doctor clears you to do so.
As your recovery continues, you should be able to resume movement of the affected area, beginning with some light, low-impact exercises to begin strengthening the regenerated tissues. These exercises may slowly increase in intensity over time. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to ensure this process occurs safely. Again, even if you begin feeling “normal” at the injury site, resist the urge to overdo it. You don’t want to cause a setback to your own healing process.
Over these next few weeks, with a regular exercise regimen as directed by your doctor, you should continue to see a gradual strengthening of the injured area. If all goes well — and if this is your final injection — your doctor should clear you to resume competitive sports somewhere between week 8 and week 12. If you are scheduled for another injection, follow your doctor’s specific instructions for exercise and physical therapy as this cycle repeats.
Bear in mind that the information above is a general guide. Everyone’s process and recovery time may be a bit different, so it’s important not to make assumptions. Always check with your doctor before resuming any type of activity. For more information about the process of returning to sports after regenerative injection therapy, call Polaris Spine and Neurosurgery Center at 404-256-2633.