Return To Sport After Injury

Imagine this…

During a tackle in your club AFL match, you go down twisting your ankle.

Following assessment by your club physiotherapist, scans are done and you are found to have the dreaded high ankle sprain.

A moon boot is fitted and you are advised of 6 weeks recovery.

Fast forward 6 weeks and you are finally out of the moon boot. Your first question for your physiotherapist is, “Can I play this weekend?”

Short answer… No.


Long answer…

The timeline for returning to sport requires consideration of a variety of factors including length of time out of play, type of sport played and level of participation.

For the athlete mentioned initially playing AFL, they have spent 6 weeks in a moon boot. This equates to a 6 week period of no running, no lower leg strengthening, no contact drills, which means that the risk of re-injury due to returning to play too quickly, is high. The concern is not necessarily for the ankle, which at 6 weeks is healing nicely, but for all surrounding tissues which have also had 6 weeks off.

Ultimately, there is currently no consensus on return to play timelines. However, the research does suggest that return to play should be goal based with a gradual return to sport. [Arden et al. 2016]

For this player returning from an ankle injury, the first goal is return to participation where rehabilitation is going to focus on returning mobility and strength through the ankle joint and lower limb globally. This stage will involve returning to training at a modified capacity, gradually returning to full unrestricted training.

The next goal is to return to sport whereby the athlete is returning to their desired sport. For the majority of athletes, they will be satisfied at reaching this stage.

For this AFL athlete however, let’s also add that they are playing at colts level and aiming to be drafted next AFL season. Therefore, the last stage will be returning to performance whereby the goal is for the player to perform at or above pre-injury level.


Here at Aspley Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic, our physiotherapists will be with you every step of the way as you recover from your injury, and will develop your rehabilitation plan and guide your return to sport, whatever your desired type or level.


Ardern CL, Glasgow P, Schneiders A, et al2016 Consensus statement on return to sport from the First World Congress in Sports Physical Therapy, Bern. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2016;50:853-864.

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