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Time your return to play with care to avoid re-injury

The first question always asked by any player with an injury is how soon will they be able to play again?

For obvious reasons this varies with each injury and individual. Too early and there is a high risk of re-injury or creating a chronic problem, which will mean more time off. Too late can cause needless deconditioning and not being able to play at pre-injury level.

There are steps that players should follow and use as guidelines to ensure they heal and rehabilitate as quickly and as thoroughly as possible and reduce the risk of re-injury.

1 Allow enough time for the injury to heal – a lot of players try to "play through" pain or discomfort. Get treatment and diagnosis as quickly as possible. Avoid activities that cause pain or discomfort. Reduce swelling and bruising.

2Begin the rehab phase as quickly as possible – even in the acute stages of injury, it can be important to start mobility and range of movement work ASAP. Be diligent about doing rehab exercises as directed.

3Regain full range of movement, functional strength and neuromuscular control of the injured area. Start with the basic strengthening and stabilising exercises and work to gain full strength, stability, endurance and power. Use the uninjured side as a comparison, aiming to get back to 90pc before progressing.

4Introduce dynamic and sports-specific movements – include multidirectional movement patterns, dynamic control and agility work. Challenge co-ordination. Keep dynamic rehab gym-based at first, only progressing onto the pitch when these movements are pain free.

5Reintroduction to full training and play – when the healing and rehab has progressed to the point where the risk of re-injury is very low, normal training can re-commence. Gradually build the intensity and volume as the body allows and only do as much as instructed by the physio/coach.

Let pain and weakness be the guideline throughout and only progress as this allows. Continue with strength and rehab work even after returning to proper training.

Even though the injury can feel 100pc healed, there can still be some deficits in strength and movement, so take care of the injured area even after the injury is gone.

If players suffer any setbacks at any stage, they can just go back a step in the rehab process and build up again.

Don't cut corners or try to skip ahead – even if everything feels OK, they are increasing the risk of re-injury or prolonged weakness.

Remember that it is important to maintain overall conditioning while injured and there is plenty that players can do without aggravating the injured area.

Use the bike, pool and gym to train the rest of the body to maintain strength and fitness while injured.

This is will help players to get back to playing at pre-injury level quicker when they have healed and avoid any unnecessary deconditioning.

Maintaining good physical conditioning and strength throughout the year will not only reduce a player's risk of injury, but will also speed up injury recovery time.

Paying attention to warning signs of injury like aches and niggles and getting treatment immediately will also then help speed recovery time after.