Length of Rehab to Return to Play: Striking a Balance

The St. Paul Pioneer Press recently featured Dr. Marx, who commented on Minnesota Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater’s expected time to recovery from his ACL tear and knee dislocation. ACL injuries are becoming increasingly common, especially in professional athletes. However, while for many patients, barriers such as tendinitis, pain, or increased swelling may delay return to play, this is usually not an issue for professional athletes due to their body makeup and the high-quality care they receive. Most athletes have a very quick and uncomplicated recovery.

Yet, as with any patient, risk of re-injury is higher if professional athletes get back in the game too quickly. As such, striking the ideal balance between returning to play too early versus too late depends to a certain extent on the structural damage associated with the injury. According to Dr. Marx, proper length of rehabilitation is crucial to avoiding re-injury. He notes that the most important step after surgery is for a patient to gradually regain motion and reduce swelling. Then, the patient can begin to work on strength and resume athletic activities in the following sequence: light hopping, running, agility, and, finally, return to play.

AAOS guidelines do not suggest an ideal time period from surgery/injury for athletes to return to play. However, literature does describe accelerated vs. non-accelerated rehabilitation programs for patients, depending on the extent of the ACL injury. Ultimately, it is crucial that, as rehabilitation programs improve and care becomes more streamlined, athletes work closely with their providers to ensure the recovery process is as painless and efficient as possible.

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