COVID-19 And Student Athletes: How Can the Virus Impact Return-To-Play?
The end of summer marked the start of the school year, and for student athletes, the kickoff of the fall sports season. For many, COVID-19 sidelined practices, team gatherings and games to some extent last year. And while there is still hope that young athletes will have more opportunity to play this season despite rising cases of the Delta variant, there are other factors causing concern among athletes and their parents.
According to Ramsey Shehab, M.D., a sports medicine physician for Henry Ford Health System, many athletes are concerned about reaching peak performance after a long time off or after they have recovered from a COVID diagnosis. He reassures students that the feeling of exhaustion or even underperformance compared to past years is to be expected when you take time off or after fighting an illness.
“When you are infected with a virus, it taxes your immune system, and all of your energy goes towards fighting off that infection,” says Dr. Shehab. “You’ll likely feel weak and more tired during this time.”
Fortunately, as the body begins to recover, you’ll start to feel more like yourself again as you get your energy back. But this doesn’t mean that you won’t lose some of that fitness and endurance you’ve built up.
“It only takes about a week of deconditioning to set you back from peak athletic abilities,” says Dr. Shehab. “It is completely expected that your body will need time to get back to performing at your best.”
Playing Sports After Recovering From COVID-19
The unfortunate news: COVID-19 affects people differently in the long term. Some people are able to recover and get back to their routine without delay, whereas others see further complications months after an infection.
“With COVID-19, there is a risk of direct injury like heart failure or an arrhythmia due to the stress your body is under while fighting off the virus,” says Dr. Khandelwal. “As a result, having the virus can cause inflammation of the heart, a condition called myocarditis.”
Because of this, talking to your doctor before returning to a sport is a must if you had COVID or are recovering from the virus. It is important to make sure there are no systemic changes to your body such as overall heart health and lung function. They will be able to rule out any long-term effects that could impact your fitness output.
Expert-Recommended Steps for Return-To-Play
As you get back to your game, both experts share their insights for a healthy recovery:
1. Take quarantine periods seriously. If you are sick, even if you don’t necessarily feel sick, make sure you are taking time to rest and recover properly. “Don’t try to push or overexert yourself,” says Dr. Khandelwal. “It could prolong your recovery.”
2. Get back to training slowly. “Start using low-exertion activities to get your body used to working out again,” says Dr. Shehab. “Once you are able to handle each activity, you can push ahead to something more challenging.” Realistically, it may take a couple of weeks before you are able to get back to your peak.
3. Listen to your body. If workouts seem increasingly difficult, talk with your doctor or trainer before pushing yourself further. You can also help your body recover by making healthy, thoughtful choices:
► Get plenty of sleep
► Warm up and cool down before and after workouts
► Stay hydrated
► Take breaks when you’re tired
► Practice injury prevention
► Make smart food choices
4. Get vaccinated. If medical or religious reasons, or age requirements aren’t stopping you from getting the vaccine, consider getting the shot for yourself and those around you. The Delta variant is highly transmittable, meaning that, it is much easier for it to spread to teammates and family members than the original strain of the virus.
To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit our Vaccine FAQs page.
Dr. Ramsey Shehab is the deputy chief of Sports Medicine at Henry Ford Health System. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine and Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township.
Dr. Akshay Khandelwal is an interventional cardiologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Second Avenue.
Injuries happen to skiers of all levels, even under pristine conditions and when using the best available equipment. “Beginners are more likely to get injured. But when experienced skiers go down, they tend to have more severe injuries,” says Michelle Gambino-Gorney, a certified athletic trainer at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.
But you don’t have to let the risk of injury hold you back from having fun on the slopes. A few basic safety tips? Stay within your ability level and ensure your skis are in good condition. That said, going beyond ski safety basics and learning how to avoid injuries can help you stay safe on the slopes. Here are six expert tips:
Use caution when getting on and off the ski lift. Ski lifts make a lot of people anxious. Being high off the ground on your journey up the mountain can invoke a fear of falling. “But it’s getting on and off the ski lift where the vast majority of lift-related injuries occur,” Gambino-Gorney says. To lower your risk of injury, remove pole straps and backpacks before loading, look over your shoulder to make sure you sit squarely on the seat at the correct time, and don't try to retrieve items you lose hold of (including poles, gloves and phones). It’s best to let them go and ski back for them.
Keep it simple at terrain parks. Terrain parks include human-made features like ramps and rails that enable skiers to do jumps, flips and other maneuvers. Any time your skis leave the ground, injuries are possible. You can safely enjoy terrain parks by starting with smaller obstacles and maneuvers and mastering them before moving on to other challenges. Do not rely on online tutorials to learn new skills. Ski instructors can help you learn the correct technique and provide personalized tips for achieving your goals.
Beware of trees. Trees present multiple dangers. Colliding with a tree, especially at high speed, leads to some of the most severe ski injuries. A small number of skiers die each year from tree collisions. To avoid collisions, ski with control. Other concerns include tree wells and snow immersion suffocation. This type of injury occurs when a person falls head first into a pocket of loose snow near a tree trunk and gets trapped. Skiing with a partner on ungroomed paths, which typically run past tree wells, is essential. If you become immersed in a tree well, a partner can step in to help you break free.
Pay extra attention during your final run of the day. Injuries are more common during skiers’ last runs. “Skiing later in the day can be dangerous because small changes can affect your ability to maneuver and react to conditions,” Gambino-Gorney says. Fresh powder may get matted down. Groomed areas become bumpy. And fatigue can make you less aware of hazards and other skiers. While it may be tempting to give it your all on your last run, it’s better to ease up and take your time.
Follow the Skier Code of Responsibility. People of all ages, abilities and ski levels can safely share the slopes when everyone follows the National Ski Area Association™ Responsibility Code. Key points include: Giving right of way to people ahead of (downhill from) you, staying off closed trails, and looking uphill for other skiers when merging.
Expedite access to help in an emergency. Being prepared can help you quickly reach ski patrol in an emergency. Most ski areas list their ski patrol phone number near the lifts. While you are waiting in the ski lift line, program it into your phone. If you or someone nearby experiences an injury, being able to call for help will save precious time. Instead of waiting for someone to ski down the mountain and ask for help, you can stay with the injured person and call for help. Calling also makes it easier to share important details so that ski patrol arrives with the appropriate people and equipment.
“Skiing is like any sport in that there’s a risk of injury. But many people hit the slopes without incident. Some skiers go decades without a single fall,” Gambino-Gorney says. Follow these insider tips and don't forget to wear a helmet so you can relish your next powder day and get the most out of the season.
Michelle Gambino-Gorney is a certified athletic trainer at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.