Return to play protocols for musculoskeletal upper and lower limb injuries in tackle-collision team sports: A systematic review

Eur J Sport Sci. 2022 Nov;22(11):1743-1756. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2021.1960623. Epub 2021 Aug 13.


Athletes in tackle-collision teams are at high risk of musculoskeletal injuries resulting in absence from play due to the high impact nature of the sport. There is a paucity of research to guide the management and assessment methods needed to facilitate the return to play (RTP) process. This review aimed to describe, synthesise and evaluate RTP protocols implemented for musculoskeletal injuries in tackle-collision teams. A systematic search of Scopus, PubMed, Web of Science and Ebsco Host was conducted for RTP management protocols and assessment modalities following upper and lower limb musculoskeletal injuries in tackle-collision team athletes. Prospective and retrospective quantitative controlled trials, cohort, case-control, case-series and cross-sectional observation studies published between January 2000 and March 2020 were considered. The main outcome measures were the proportion of athletes to RTP, associated time-loss and reinjury risk. 5265 articles were screened. 34 studies met the eligibility criteria of which 23 involved management and 11 assessment modalities. Management involved surgical or conservative strategies along with exercise-based rehabilitation. Assessment modalities included radiographic assessment, clinical evaluation and subjective ratings. Promising RTP management included progressive weight-bearing and exercised-based rehabilitation for ankle sprains as well as surgery, the use of a sling and exercise-based rehabilitation for shoulder instability. MRI scans showed promise in predicting time-loss following hamstring and calf strains in tackle-collision athletes. There are currently no clear guidelines for RTP after musculoskeletal injuries in tackle-collision sports. Future research should investigate efficient management strategies evaluated through valid and reliable assessment methods to better guide clinicians.

Keywords: American football; Australian rules football; Return to sport; assessment; management; rugby.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries* / therapy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Joint Instability*
  • Lower Extremity
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Return to Sport
  • Shoulder Joint*
  • Team Sports