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Return to play following injury: whose decision should it be?


Background Return-to-play (RTP) decision-making is required for every injured athlete. However, these decisions often lead to conflict between sport medicine professionals, athletes, coaches and sport associations. This study explores differences in professionals’ opinion about which criteria should be used for RTP decisions, and who is best able to evaluate them.

Methods We surveyed Canadian sport medicine physicians, physiotherapists, athletic therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, athletes, coaches and representatives from three sport associations. The 10 min online survey asked respondents to rate criteria as mandatory to irrelevant on a five-point Likert scale, and to indicate which profession was best able to evaluate the criteria.

Results In general, medical doctors, physiotherapists and athletic therapists were considered best able to assess factors related to risk of injury and complications from injury. Each clinician group (except sport massage therapists) generally believed their own profession has the best capacity to evaluate the criteria. Athletes, coaches and sport associations were considered to have the best capacity to assess factors related to competition (desire, psychological and financial impact and loss of competitive standing). There remained considerable heterogeneity both between and within stakeholder groups.

Conclusions We found that differences in approach to RTP decisions were generally greater within versus between-stakeholder groups. If shared decision-making is to become the norm in clinical sport medicine, we need to begin a discussion on which discrepancies are due to lack of training (resolved through education) or scientific knowledge (resolved through research) or simply reflect the divergence of personal/societal values.

  • Evaluation
  • Sporting injuries
  • Sports rehabilitation programs

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