When to return to sports following an injury?

The final goal of physical therapy for many patients is being able to return to playing sports or continue their favorite activity injury free. However, depending on the injury, it could take weeks or months before the patient is “ready.” All physical therapists have been asked the question “when can I play sports again?”

Unfortunately for patients they get the common answer of “it depends.”Injuries and patients are unique, not all cases and situations can be approached the same. “It depends” is sadly the easiest answer when tempting to factor in the healing time of an injury and the demands of the sport/activity the patient is returning to.

In a world that thrives on instant results, the uncertainty of a solid time line before returning to activity can be very challenging. This uncertainty and obscureness is why return to sport testing is so important for patients that are returning to high level activities.

What is return to sport testing?

Return to sport testing is a series of assessments a physical therapist will put a patient through to determine their readiness to return to a sport/ activity in order to decrease their risk of reinjury and improve overall performance. These tests give the patient and therapist quantitative and qualitative information about limitations in the patient’s ability to participate in activity.

Below are several examples of lower extremity return to sport tests.There are hundreds of test examples; these are popular tests but not necessarily the best for each patient depending on their specific needs.

Lower Quarter Y Balance Test

  • Testing single leg balance and stability.
  • 3 reaches: anterior, posterior medial, posterior lateral
  • Then compared the results of the involved and uninvolved leg
  • Y Balance Test Explained – YouTube

Noyes Hop Test

  • Testing dynamic symmetry of jumping/hoping ability between each extremity in the forward direction
  • Single Leg
  • Single Leg Triple Hop
  • Single Leg Cross Over Hop
  • 6 Meter Timed Hop
  • ACL Return to Sport Testing: Hop Tests – YouTube

Lower Extremity Function Test

  • Testing multi directional sprinting, cutting and endurance
  • Lower Extremity Func8onal Test (LEFT) – YouTube

In order for patients to return to sports/activities they have to feel ready and prove they are ready. These assessments give patients and therapists the ability to accurately examine where the patient is on the return to sport spectrum.

Return to sport tests should not be used as individual tests but as clusters with multiple examinations, allowing patients and therapists to determine strengthens/weaknesses over multiple assessments. These tests aren’t perfect but they are the best option to determine when a patient is able to return to high level activity with the best chance to succeed without future injury and optimal performance.

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