There are many factors to consider before clearing an athlete to return to sport. Time since injury, improvements in range of motion and increases in joint stability are all good metrics to evaluate before giving an athlete the green light.
Many rehabilitation programs focus primarily on enhancing maximal muscle strength. Current research suggests that Rate of Force Development (RFD) may actually be a better predictive factor in determining whether an athlete is ready for sport.
Common athletic maneuvers such as pivoting, jumping and stop-and-starts require rapid stabilization of the joints in the lower limb. This requires almost instantaneous muscle activation to prevent joint displacement and avoid re-injury. Factors such as neural activation, fiber composition and muscle contractile properties influence RFD and the body’s ability to absorb load on the joint. Therefore, it may not matter how strong the muscle is, but rather how fast the muscle can fire.
So how might this change rehabilitation programs?
Most physical rehabilitation protocols help build strength but fail to include an explosive component. Because athletic demands are often variable and unpredictable, it is important for the muscles to be able to react to any situation. Incorporating explosive plyometric exercises and a variation of sport specific drills will improve RFD and prevent future injury.
Take home points for sport-injury rehab:
• Allow sufficient time to for healing process to occur
• Recover full range of motion and flexibility
• Progressively overload the muscle to build strength
• Explosive training to enhance ability of muscle to generate force rapidly.
• Incorporate plyometric and sport specific drills to complement athletic demands.
As always, the best way to stay in the game is to avoid injury in the first place. So don’t wait for the pain to start before implementing an effective strength AND conditioning program.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a sport injury, call and book an appointment today for a complete musculoskeletal assessment!