Unless your child has been to physical therapy for an injury before, you may not know what to think or expect as a parent. The purpose of therapy is to get your child back to doing what they love. Unfortunately, depending on the severity of their injury, recovery can take anywhere from a few days to as long as several months.
Therapists recognize that we only see your child maybe 3 to 5 hours a week, while the rest of the time they are giving you grief for having to sit on the sideline game after game. The following three tips will hopefully make the rehabilitation process as smooth as possible and keep what's important in perspective:
1. Attend a couple of PT sessions
Most of the time parents just drop their child off for therapy and then end up calling with lots of questions they could have asked me in person. Worse yet, parents may get erroneous information when it is relayed from therapist to athlete to parent (shades of the old "telephone game"). Athletes want to get back as soon as possible and the attitude of "invincibility" that teenagers often have can end up garbling the instructions given by the therapist; a statement such as "You can start practicing again next week" can end up as "You can go back to full speed 100% in the game next week."
I realize that driving your child back and forth to therapy can be a chore, but as long as you are there, why not come in and see what's going on? By attending a few sessions here and there, all of your concerns will be addressed, and the communication train won't get derailed. Your child may feel embarrassed by having you present during a PT session, but he always ends up appreciating your interest, even if it isn't until he is well into his 20s before he tells you!
2. Time = Healing
"When can your son get back in the game? We need him." Yes, these are words that parents of injured athletes will hear. There is pressure on the athlete, but it's important not to underestimate the pressure on you as their parents. It is amazing how frequently I get asked a question that begins with the phrase, "The coach was wondering ..."
Here's the deal: I know coaches want to win, athletes want to play, and parents what to see their child succeed. But a child's recovery from injury is no time for bargaining. While young athletes heal faster than adults, rushing them back from injury before they have been given enough time to completely recover simply increases the risk of future injury.
I played sports from kindergarten to college and remember doing the pressure-on-the-parent thing. My advice to parents is STAY STRONG! Cutting corners on rehabilitation or going back full force without allowing time to fully heal can be detrimental now and in the future. Even though there are big games around the corner, remember that there are bigger ones to come. I recognize that a 5th grade championship soccer is important to your child, the coach, and to you, but there will be 6th grade semifinals, 8th grade trips, high school sectionals, and maybe college scouting camps. Are you willing to gamble the championship for the moments and decades to come? Time is something you never bet on. Let them heal.
3. Make Me the Bad Guy!
As a parent, you have enough to juggle on a daily basis and an injured athlete doesn't make your job any easier. Let me help you out: MAKE ME THE BAD GUY! As a health care professional, its part of my job to tell people bad news, what they can and cannot do, and to hear the constant daily reminders that I am "mean." I get paid to do that. You don't.
You are a parent, you have about 1000+ other jobs, so, when it comes to determining when an athlete can get back on the field, pass the buck to the medical people. Let your child unload her frustrations, anger, and depression about not being able to play on me. I can take the complaints, attempts at bargaining, and the general "the world is coming to an end" attitude. YOU CANNOT WIN THE "WHY DID IT HAPPEN TO ME" BATTLE! So, when you child asks you, "Why can't I play this weekend?" I suggest you respond, with shrugged shoulders, "Well, you heard what the therapist said. The decision isn't up to me. Sorry."
Keith J. Cronin is a physical therapist in the St. Louis, Missouri area and a MomsTeam expert.
Created January 4, 2010, updated April 6, 2015