The “return-to-play” (RTP) protocol is a structured, step-by-step approach designed to ensure that athletes safely return to their sports following a concussion. The core principle behind this protocol is to allow the athlete to resume activities in a graded manner, ensuring that they remain symptom-free at each stage before progressing to more strenuous activities. Here’s a general overview of a typical RTP protocol:
Rest and Recovery: The initial phase post-concussion emphasizes complete physical and cognitive rest. Athletes should refrain from any strenuous activities and limit screen time, reading, or other tasks that might exacerbate symptoms.
Light Aerobic Activity: This stage involves low-intensity, steady-state exercises like walking or stationary cycling. The objective is to increase heart rate without head movement or impact.
Sport-Specific Exercises: At this stage, athletes can engage in non-impact, sport-specific activities. For instance, a soccer player might do some light jogging or ball-handling drills.
Non-Contact Training Drills: Intensity increases, allowing for more complex training drills. This can include weight lifting, resistance training, and other exercises that challenge balance and coordination but still avoid head impact.
Full-Contact Practice: After medical clearance, the athlete can participate in normal training activities, reintroducing contact in a controlled setting to see how they respond.
Return to Play: If the athlete remains symptom-free during full-contact practice, they can be cleared to return to competitive play.
Each stage should last a minimum of 24 hours, but can last longer depending on symptom presentation. If symptoms reappear at any stage, the athlete should revert to the previous symptom-free step and consult a healthcare professional.
It’s vital to note that the exact progression and duration can vary based on individual circumstances, the nature of the sport, and specific medical recommendations. Always prioritize safety and follow the guidance of healthcare professionals.