My athlete got injured. Now what?

Child playing soccer

What should my athlete do after an injury? How can they get back on the field as quickly and safely as possible?

Let’s answer these questions by examining the sports physical therapy process for the most common soft tissue injury in soccer, a quad strain. For more information on soft tissue injuries and the difference between strains and sprains, check out last week’s article, here.

Soccer players risk having soft tissue injuries due to the sport’s high volume of sprinting, kicking, and cutting. Kicking-related injuries represent the largest portion, with the rectus femoris muscle, part of the quadriceps group, being the most commonly injured muscle.

The rectus femoris muscle crosses both the hip and the knee. As an athlete winds up to kick a soccer ball, the rectus femoris muscle quickly stretches and rapidly contracts to kick the ball. Any muscle that quickly and continuously lengthens and shortens is at an increased risk of injury, especially across multiple areas like the hip and knee.

Immediately after the injury occurs, the athlete should be examined by a physical therapist or sports medicine physician to determine the severity of the injury and course of action. Imaging may be helpful in some cases but is not always necessary.

The physical therapy/rehab process for a muscle strain can be divided into 3 distinct phases .

Injury Management Phase
The goals of this phase are to reduce pain and inflammation, restore the range of motion of the muscle, and re-introduce pain-free functional movements. Injured tissues need this time to recover and heal, but that does not mean complete rest. Light strengthening exercises and mobility drills help to stimulate healing, which is why immediately starting physical therapy is so important.

Examples of early-phase exercises for a quad strain may include:

Once athletes demonstrate full range of motion without pain and perform basic bodyweight movements, they progress to the next rehabilitation phase. Unfortunately, this is where traditional PT stops, and many athletes struggle to bridge the gap from rehab to performance.

Strength Training Phase
Many athletes still have significant strength deficits at the start of this phase.

Strength training improves the quality of the injured tissue and reduces the risk of reinjuring the muscle. This is when it is time to get in the weight room.

Examples of strength training exercises for an athlete recovering from a rectus femoris or quad strain include:

Sport Specific Training
What must the injured tissue be capable of to safely return to sport?

This phase of rehab requires a strong understanding of an athlete’s sport as the injured area must be ready for everything that is about to be thrown at them.

The rectus femoris is injured because of continuous, rapid lengthening and shortening. This must be replicated and trained as a part of the rehab process, preparing the athlete for the demands of soccer.

Here are some examples of movements that may be used during this phase.

These 3 phases apply to all muscle strains, but each muscle strain recovers at a different rate. The area of the body that is injured, severity of the injury, and several other factors impact how quickly an athlete will return to the field.

If you have an athlete with a muscle strain, schedule an appointment with a physical therapist or sports medicine physician right away. Early treatment has been proven to get athletes back on the field sooner, and more successfully.  If you are suspicious that you or your child has a muscle strain, schedule an evaluation with us right away.

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