Objective: The purpose of this paper is to outline general treatment and return to play (RTP) strategies as they pertain to athletes with various upper extremity injuries. It is not intended to be a comprehensive review of these injuries.
Data sources/synthesis: A review of the literature plus expert opinion served as the basis for recommendations made regarding management strategies for returning the athlete to play after upper extremity injury. A Medline search was performed using the following key words: upper extremity injury, return to play, glenohumeral dislocation, acromioclavicular joint sprains, elbow dislocation, scaphoid fracture, metacarpal fracture, finger dislocation, tendon injury, hand, mallet finger, and jersey finger. These and other related terms were crossed using the Medline database from 1966 to 2005.
Results: Review of book chapters, articles generated from the Medline search, and expert opinion led to the recommendations that are presented here. There is general agreement regarding the treatment of many of the injuries discussed, but controversies do exist. RTP guidelines are largely dependent on the severity of initial injury, rates of healing, and return of strength.
Conclusions: Each athlete with a particular injury to the upper extremity needs to be approached as an individual as no single set of treatment or RTP guidelines applies to all injuries or all individuals. Factors such as age, injury severity, hand dominance, type of sport participation, method of treatment, and chronicity of injury are among the many issues that must be considered when developing a treatment and RTP strategy for a particular athlete.