Return to Play Decisions


Though a beautiful time of year, fall is not
the most idyllic for a sports medicine clinician

Like many of the readers out there, my colleagues and I are deep in a football season, where we are managing various teams and their mounting injuries.  For a sports medicine physician, fall in America must be a bit like early spring for an accountant (tax day = April 15):  it’s the time to buckle down and crank through patients, the time, from a certain perspective, to see the volume of patients that will sustain the business through leaner times of the year.

When I’m out of the clinic and on the sidelines, I’m also doing one of the parts of my job that is the most fun, and I’m sure my colleagues out in the blog sphere will agree.  But I wouldn’t describe the work as an idyll.  I can be enjoying my team’s performance, and then called in three directions at once, treating players and making decisions on whether they can get back into the game:  decisions that can have significant consequences for the player and the team.

I thought I would write somewhat extemporaneously today, and in sharing some of the more interesting cases I have seen of late think in a more structured way about how we primary care sports medicine physicians make return to play (RTP) decisions.

RTP decisions make the headlines all the time.  In the professional leagues of North American sports, in just the last two weeks, we have seen discussions about Kobe Bryant’s return to the NBA from late spring Achilles tendon surgery; Rob Grownkowski’s ‘delayed’ return from a surgically treated forearm fracture; the much anticipated return of Derrick Rose more than a year after his ACL reconstruction; debate over RGIII and whether he has come back too soon from his own multi-ligamentous knee injury…….the list goes on!

pos elbow disloc

The end of a season?

In my own practice, I have been trying to return players back to American football while they have recovered from a kidney contusion, a posterior elbow dislocation, a complete rupture of the ulnar collateral ligament, and a demyelination injury of the axillary nerve.  Of the four, two are back playing; the elbow dislocation is still rehabbing, and i hope to return in a hinged knee brace before the end of the year; and the axillary nerve injury continues to have pain and profound weakness of his deltoid, and his recovery will extend beyond the end of this season (much to the coach’s dismay).

Despite being one of the more important aspects of our job, there is very little in the way of evidence-based medicine to guide a clinician in these decisions. Read more of this post

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