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By Karyn Odway
There are an estimated 8.6 million sports-and recreation-related injury episodes each year in the U.S. The most common injuries athletes endure are sprains or strains, especially hamstring strains and ankle sprains. The recommended treatment for most of these injuries is rest and rehabilitation.
But what about injured student athletes – whether amid a winter sport or warming up to the spring sports season? These athletes see those treatments as causing them to sit out of in-season play.
“For most sprains or strains, student athletes might have to sit out for some time until strength and function is restored, but it is unlikely to cost them a whole season of play,” said Asheesh Bedi, MD, orthopedic surgeon and director of Sports Medicine and Joint Preservation at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute. “And there are other conditions that may cause pain, such as a partial tendon tear or a small cartilage flap. Even though they might be an irritant during play, these injuries can often be safely managed and more definitively managed at the end of the season.” That said, Dr. Bedi recommends that these conditions be treated off-season.
Contact sports like football, rugby, and lacrosse are known for having more acute and traumatic injuries that often need surgery. Additionally, cutting and pivoting sports like soccer and field hockey have a high incidence of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries with noncontact events.
So, when does an injury need the attention of a surgeon?
Closer Look at Surgery
“More high energy injuries such as dislocated joints, fractures, and cartilage or ligament tears sometime need surgery,” Dr. Bedi said. “They are less common than strains, but result in a significantly greater amount of lost play time given the road to recovery.”
Any injury to a joint or soft tissue that limits strength, motion, and the ability of athletes to protect themselves safely with play should see a sports medicine physician.
“A careful evaluation of stability, swelling, range of motion, and strength can help to inform a safe decision before getting back on the court or field. This is important to prevent further injuries that may require surgery or even predispose an athlete to arthritis later in life.”
“Injuries like a torn ACL or displaced meniscus tear usually require urgent treatment to stabilize the joint and prevent further damage with a return to play,” Dr. Bedi said. “Shoulders that dislocate are often managed the same way to protect from recurrence and further joint damage.”
The key to a quick recovery, Dr. Bedi notes, is following the principles of healing to resolve inflammation, regain motion, and restore strength. “Athletes are motivated, but a premature return to sport with a setback or recurrent injury may paradoxically delay the time to recovery.”
Dr. Bedi advises respecting postoperative guidelines for a safe rehabilitation. “Hitting each milestone is the best path to a favorable outcome and timeline for return to play.”
Additionally, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and a commitment to physical therapy will all assist with a successful surgery and a quicker recovery.
Dr. Bedi emphasizes, “While surgery may not be desired, it is important for all of us to remember that the best course of action is always the right one. Sometimes, surgery is more predictable, faster, and has better outcomes than nonoperative treatment, especially when it comes to ACL tears or shoulder dislocations.” In these scenarios, surgery typically has high-quality outcomes and on relatively predictable timelines.
“Players should not fear injuries or their treatments, even surgical ones,” Dr. Bedi adds. “They should focus on doing whatever they can to prevent injuries, but have confidence in their physicians to point them in the right direction for safe recovery and return to sport when they get hurt.”
Dr. Asheesh Bedi, MD, has practiced orthopaedic medicine for more than 14 years and has performed thousands of surgical procedures with exceptional outcomes in recreational, collegiate, and professional athletes. To learn more about the Orthopaedic & Spine Institute, click here.