Dr. Kristen K. Schulte,PT
"Time Off" is not a good game plan
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Thankfully, our fall sport athletes have been able to have a season!! This means that we are now at that magic time in the season where “overuse” injuries start to crop up: pulled muscles, shin splints, knee pain, stress reactions, etc. Each year that I am in business, I am impressed that more and more local parents bring their athlete in at the slightest sign of injury! However, there is still a lot of learning to be done in our young athlete community regarding injury: There is a gross misunderstanding that time off will heal injuries.
Okay okay. Let me back up. Time off will heal injuries, but time off alone will not necessarily heal injuries. I need to mention that time off will only truly heal as long as the underlying issue is corrected. How many times have you started to feel an injury crop up, you take a week or two off, then after that time off, you return to the sport or activity only to feel the same pain come back again? That is frustrating for everyone involved. I firmly believe that most young athletes want to be the best they can be in their sport, which means that practicing and playing games is essential. And most coaches do not want any of their athletes sidelined; it is simply not a good winning strategy nor is it good for team morale. So one week off is frustrating enough, but when the athlete returns and is still in pain, what do they need? Another week off? Practicing at half the intensity? Skipping some games? Or maybe they are finished for the season?
None of those are good options, and in most cases, none of those should be options. Far too many athletes are sidelined because they are not getting better, and it is all due to the underlying cause not being corrected. For example, if a shin splint developed from low arches or tight calves, and the low arches or tight calves are not corrected, they will have those shin splints the rest of the season even if they “rest”. The same goes with any other overuse injury: Most of them develop due to an imbalance of strength and flexibility, and they crop up mid-season because the body has worked hard throughout the season to compensate for imbalances, and the body is finally tired of it.
I have been an injured athlete before, and I understand the toll that sitting out games and practices takes (especially when there is no real plan in place for getting better). Most of the time, when one of my athletes that I see here asks if they can practice tomorrow or play in the game this weekend, my first answer is, “Yes!” There might be some modifications. They might not get to practice the whole time or do certain movements for a bit, but more often than not, the question of participation is always met with, “Yes!” I believe in my toolbox of agents of physical healing, and I believe that together with the athlete, we can decrease pain and correct the underlying issue, all while continuing to participate. Sometimes, a little rest to decrease inflammation is required, but it should always be done in conjunction with a real treatment plan: strengthening and stretching what needs to be strengthened and stretched. Time off in and of itself should never be the exclusive treatment.