Open Accessibility Menu

How OC Student Athletes Can Safely Return to Sports

  • Category: Sports Medicine
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: David Gazzaniga, M.D.
How OC Student Athletes Can Safely Return to Sports

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are loosening, children and teens are returning to school, and the spring sports season is a reality for hundreds of students. Youth athletes in Orange County now have the green light to resume outdoor competition after being sidelined for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though this is exciting news, there have been many changes in athletes’ bodies due to inactivity over the course of the last year. No amount of practice can truly recreate what it’s like to be in a game. You cannot match the speed, the intensity, the output of energy in a game situation, and some kids will be more ready than others. Moreover, children’s bodies may have changed naturally, including growth spurts as their bodies continue to mature.

A primary concern among orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians are the athletes’ increased risk of injury after prolonged periods of physical inactivity. When you shut down for a long period of time, being unconditioned along with intense enthusiasm and comradery could lead to the higher risk for injuries.

I encourage appropriate preparation and conditioning for athletes before they return to the game in full force. Before you begin training, it’s a good idea to consult with your physician to address any health concerns and ensure your body can endure the demanding endeavor. Athletes of all levels can also prepare prior to the sporting season with a home exercise program specific to the sport they play. Here are some general tips for a safer return to sport for your child:

  1. Start slow. Gradually increase your output a small percentage each week.
  2. Notice pain. Pain tells you something. Did you do too much? Build a rest and recovery regime.
  3. Mix all types of training into your routine – cardio, weight, balance, flexibility.
  4. Take days off from training to rest.
  5. Ensure your sleep is adequate. Sleep helps recover from activity.
  6. Ensure you are drinking and eating as directed. It is easy to become dehydrated when you are having fun.
  7. Pay attention to your coaches and trainers. They may have strict COVID-19 protocols in place to participate in sports.

In addition to following guidelines, I also recommend cross training, where athletes are encouraged to revisit different sports to develop different muscle groups. Following guidance from your sports physician and coaches may help reduce the risk of injury among athletes who return to play after lengthy periods of inactivity during the pandemic.

Though getting back to play can be daunting for athletes after being out so long, we can make sure they are prepared and properly conditioned in time to enjoy the challenge and intensity of their sports while avoiding potential injuries.

(Dr. David Gazzaniga is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine in Newport Beach and also Division Chair of Sports Medicine at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine. Dr. Gazzaniga serves as head team doctor for the Los Angeles Chargers.)