Can you believe it’s already September? Although I’m sad to see the summer coming to an end, I must admit, fall is my favorite time of year. With the fall comes the start of high school and youth sports. By now, most fall sports have played their first couple of games and we have seen a number of athletes with injuries. One of the most important questions we face is when can an athlete return to play and when should you seek medical treatment. Most high schools have access to a trainer who is a fantastic resource. If a trainer is available, he or she is the best first line of medical treatment. Unfortunately younger athletes may not have the same access, so these are signs and symptoms to look out for.
Any injury that causes a player to lose strength or unable to participate at full speed should sit out until the athlete has regained full strength without pain. Injuries such as strains and sprains cause this form of discomfort, and while the injury may not have long term consequences, it may place the athlete at higher risk for a more serious injury if the athlete cannot play at full speed. Injuries that cause significant swelling or bruising often indicate a more extensive injury and should be evaluated more quickly by a medical professional. In this type of situation, it is unadvisable to return to play prior to evaluation by a doctor. Severe pain, any noticeable deformities, extensive swelling, numbness, or injuries that leave an athlete unable to use an extremity should be evaluated by a doctor or taken to an emergency department immediately. Additionally, with the increased recognition of concussions and head trauma, athletes who lose consciousness or have lingering neurologic symptoms such as headache, dizziness, or inability to focus should be removed from play until he or she can be evaluated by a doctor.
Thankfully, young athletes heal quickly. The majority of injuries are strains and sprains; these injuries can be treated conservatively and will return to play typically within 2 to 4 weeks. More extensive injuries including fractures and ligament tears require around 6 to 8 weeks to heal. Injuries that require surgical interventions will likely keep the athlete out the rest of the season.
Good luck and stay healthy!