To kick off the start of the Major League Soccer (MLS) season, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) will be posting its first-ever soccer blog series with Dr. Riley Williams and other HSS experts. Read our previous installments with Dr. Williams and Dr. Teena Shetty here.
Growing up with the dream of becoming a professional athlete takes an incredible amount of motivation and dedication to reach that level of play. It is rewarding and fulfilling to reach a goal of this magnitude. I can relate—I played football at Yale University as a free safety prior to pursuing a career in medicine. However, when an athlete experiences an injury, say in soccer, the outcome can be devastating and can drastically alter a player’s drive and endurance. To address this shift in a player’s career, HSS focuses on several aspects of care to positively overcome an injury and ensure proper treatment and recovery occurs before returning to play.
Recovery time: The average time of recovery before an athlete can return to play for most soccer-related injuries is six to nine months. Making players aware of the specific direction of treatment will help them remain positive throughout this point in recovery.
The art of retraining: An essential part of recovery for an athlete is carefully retraining his or her body to play with the ability and endurance of an athlete at the elite level. For instance, a player should allow his or her injury to heal and mature properly throughout recovery in order to effectively adapt to specific soccer movements.
Returning too soon: Many players do not realize that training too strenuously too quickly can lead to re-injury. The vetted protocols at HSS emphasize the importance of a steady recovery that is specific to each player’s injury and needs.
Morale of a player: Experiencing an injury and handling the physical and emotional aspects of recovery can be challenging. Players benefit from friends and family; physicians and other medical staff; and most importantly teammates showing support and being upbeat during this time.
Rational return to play: Effective treatment requires rational return to play. Every patient and every injury is different. My colleagues and I take an objective approach to a soccer player’s injury by focusing on each patient’s injury, proper diagnosis, quality of movement during recovery, and the progress of a player’s mobility and capability of returning to play.
As an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, my goal is to effectively shepherd the athlete from diagnosis to treatment and then through full recovery. It is incredibly gratifying to help an athlete return to a sport, like soccer, who has dedicated his or her entire life to reaching the level of play that requires the strength and endurance of an elite athlete. With that said, caring for all patients—whether they are recreational or professional athletes—requires surgical precision, attention to injury progression and dedication to the needs of each patient. For that reason, my priority is also to ensure that a patient can return to play and experience an outcome that improves their quality of life on and off the field.
Dr. Riley J. Williams III is the Medical Director & Head Team Physician for the Brooklyn Nets & New York Red Bulls. He is also the Team Physician for USA Basketball and works as the Team Physician for the Iona College Department of Athletics.