By WIN Provider: Mandeep Singh Sethi, Physiotherapist

Return-to-play (RTP) is a multifactorial process of retuning an injured athlete back to competition when risk for re-injury is minimized.

“Return to play” refers to the point in recovery from an injury when a person is able to return to playing sports or participating in an activity at a pre-injury level.


When Can I Play My Sport Again?

“When can I play again?” – as a physiotherapist, I get this question everyday.

Physiotherapist plays an important role in rehabilitating an athlete for a safe return to play and to minimize the risk of re-injury.

The severity of injuries determines the length of a rehabilitation training program. Often, the major goal of a training program is when to return to play.

When an athlete and therapist are setting return to play goals, it’s important to consider the recovery time needed and what can be done to prevent the injury from returning. Keep in mind, most soft tissue injuries (sprains, strains, fractures) need approximately six weeks to fully heal. The work and commitment from the athlete and therapist can make the recovery process even more successful.

When An Athletic Injury Happens

When an injury happens, an athlete can be forced to leave their sport and focus on their recovery. This is a great opportunity to fine tune their mental drills and skills to prepare for their return.

It can be a frustrating time, but it’s also a chance to improve in their sport without actually competing.

Use Downtime To Your Advantage

During normal practice time, recovering athletes can research their sport, analyze game footage, and learn about their injury. Imagery is a great way to stay in the game – rehearsing sport-specific skills, plays and strategies during rehabilitation. Mental practice can be done many places including when, for example, icing the injured area or just lying in bed.

This mental active rest gives the body time to recover which is very important for a young athlete. How much rest and rehab is enough? When an athlete is practicing hard without any significant difficulty and healing has progressed enough, then they are ready to return to play.

Goals For Returning To Play

Here are some general goals to consider for returning to play.

Normal range of motion (ROM). Compare with your uninjured side.

Decrease in acute pain to near zero

Decrease in swelling to near zero

Strength of the affected part at 80 – 100% of the opposing body part

80 – 100% return of balance and coordination

The ability to run without a limp (lower body injury) or able to throw with proper mechanics (upper body injuries)

How Physiotherapy Can Help

A physiotherapist can use different types of fitness testing to determine an athlete’s readiness to play. Here is a simple progression of exercises that test the ability to return to sport.

Walk with no limp.

Jog with no limp.

Sprint with no limp.

Figure 8 jog and run with no limp.

Quick cut “zig-zag” running with no limp.

Double leg hop.

Single leg hop.

Non-contact sport specific drills.

Contact sport specific drills, and

Return to competition.


A therapist wants to help the injured athlete return to play and sport as soon as possible. This requires that he or she be safe and effective in healing and training the athlete’s body. The best tools to make rehab progress quickly are actually learned before injury. If an athlete is well conditioned and fit, they can sometimes recover faster and prevent more/future injuries.


In some cases, the athlete may be able to work through one step in a single day, while in other cases it may take several days to work through an individual step.


Injury can be overwhelming, but if young athletes stay positive, maintain an upbeat mental attitude, and complete their rehabilitation plan and program, they will be able to return to play in no time!




If you are involved in competitive sports and would like to prevent injuries, or if you’ve had an injury and would like a Return-To-Play plan, visit Mandeep at WIN to discuss the options that would be best for you.