This week Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will return to action after breaking his collarbone in early November. LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant came back much sooner than anyone expected when he returned to action last month, only to be sidelined again after only 6 games. Robert Griffin III played most of this year after what many would have considered to be a career-threatening type injury to his knee from the previous season – and now many wonder if his return was too soon and led to his struggles this season. Adrian Peterson of the Vikings is another example of an athlete who made a remarkable injury comeback, but many wonder if his return was too soon considering the serious nature of his injury. These are all great athletes — but are they super-human and able to speed up the necessary injury rehabilitation process for the body to make a full recovery?
Speeding up injury recovery may not be realistic
While we are witnessing great advances in science, technology, and medicine everyday, we must also wonder if there is becoming a false confidence in sports where increasingly more players are believing that they can somehow come back from serious injuries faster than ever before? Even with the latest technology and procedures in medicine, our bodies still need time to rehabilitate — but as rehabilitation time shrinks, we must wonder if these athletes who come back from serious injuries really are ready to return to action?
Concussions, broken collarbones, and ACL injuries are injuries that require both appropriate medical attention and time to heal. The problem, however, is that more athletes today are trying to bypass the time needed to allow their bodies to get back to “playing shape,” and instead putting themselves at greater risk by returning too soon.
The mental game
Aside from the physical aspects of injury recovery, there are also mental concerns that impact the return to action. In fact, athletes generally struggle with the mental side of injury rehabilitation far more than the physical side, especially when you take into consideration the importance of playing with confidence and conviction. When athletes come back too soon and their confidence is still not back, they generally play tentatively and actually open themselves up to re-injury.
Unfortunately, in many cases the mental side of injury recovery is often overlooked or ignored, and only acknowledged when the athlete goes out to play in real games again and seems unsure of what he or she can do. This is often confusing to coaches (and fans) when all the medical reports show that the athlete should be OK to play, but just doesn’t seem “right” out there. Since there are not clear, objective measures for confidence and anxiety as there are for knee strength, it can be difficult to understand the impact of “mental toughness” as it applies to coming back from an injury.
Impact on young athletes
Young athletes are very impressionable, and the concern today is that increasingly more kids are beginning to think that they, too, can come back in record time from serious injuries. This is especially concerning when you consider that their bodies are still growing and really need the time for rehabilitation and rest – and how a premature and ill-advised comeback can actually lead to an early retirement from sports. Yes, it is exciting to see stars like RGIII, Kobe, And Aaron Rodgers come back quickly from injuries, but young athletes need to be realistic with their own injury recoveries and realize that they are still young and don’t have the same medical attention as pro athletes have at their disposal. And even with the best medical procedures, the jury is still out on whether these rapid injury comebacks make much sense — even for pro athletes.