Return to Play During COVID-19: To Prevent Injury, Youth Athletes Need 6 Weeks to Get Back in Shape

Many youth sports are returning to schools and the community this fall, which is good news for athletes who missed out last year due to COVID-19.

But getting back on the field (or rink, track, court or wherever) after months off comes with a risk of injury. Overuse injuries can occur in any sport – from “Little League Elbow” to back issues to ACL tears and ankle sprains.

Connecticut Children’s pediatric orthopedic surgeon Mark A. Rieger, MD, shares advice for youth athletes to safely build back up to full activity.

 
 

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Youth athletes need to get back into sports gradually – in general, about 6 weeks.

The body is a machine that adapts. It doesn’t just turn on or off. You have to listen to it, and ease it back into activity gradually.

  • Take your child’s level of athletic activity before the pandemic started – and divide it in half. That’s what they should start with on day one of getting back to their sport. For example, if they were running a mile each day, start by running a half-mile each day.
  • Increase the activity by 10 percent each week. That means on week two, your child will be at 60 percent of their pre-COVID activity; on week three, 70 percent; and so on.
  • By week six, they’ll be back to full activities.

> Related: Improve athletic performance – from home! Services available by Video Visit

If your child has pain, stop.

Pain is an athlete’s body telling them they shouldn’t be doing something.

  • Don’t mask pain with anti-inflammatories.
  • Don’t ignore it. If your child is experiencing pain, back off from activities until they’re pain-free. Then slowly restart the process of increasing their activity.

Teen girl kicks soccer ball

Think of this time as a preseason.

  • As much as your child might want to go full-steam back into their sport, if they haven’t competed in awhile, it isn’t safe to treat this like a regular season.
  • Instead of trying to pick up right where they left off before the pandemic, youth athletes need time just to prepare, train and get back in shape. To avoid injury, athletes and coaches should treat this season more like a preseason.

> Related: The 7 Rules of Sports Injury Prevention for Kids, Teens and Young Athletes

Returning to sports during COVID-19 is a unique experience. It’s also an opportunity.

If youth athletes return to sports gradually and safely, they’ll be doing more than just getting into good shape – they’ll be forming good habits. If they do that now, they’ll prevent injuries now and in the future.

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