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Returning to sports safely

The COVID-19 Sports Playbook is a robust guide on how to safely get athletes back in the game. Pictured, Nicole Maduri, ATC, and athlete Ogonna Chukwuemeka train at Kaiser Permanente’s Sports Medicine Department in Sacramento. 

Athletes across Northern California were forced to hang up their cleats this year as nearly all high school, collegiate, and recreational sports shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kaiser Permanente Northern California Sports Medicine program created the COVID-19 Return to Sports Playbook to help safely guide the reactivation of sports and individuals wanting to get back in shape.

Created out of a member need for reliable information during an unprecedented time, the 150-page digital book includes preseason preparation, warm-up strategies, and recovery, as well as sections on sleep and nutrition.

“The degree of collaboration and integration in creating the playbook was truly unparalleled,” said Todd Weitzenberg, MD, co-leader of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Sports Medicine Chiefs Group. “We brought together board-certified sports medicine physicians, orthopedic surgeons, nutritionists, mental health specialists, and infectious disease experts to create something rich and valuable.”

Back in action

During prolonged periods of immobility, which many athletes have experienced with shelter-in-place orders, risk for injury increases. The playbook offers robust education on how to help reduce the risk of injury including dynamic warm-ups and strengthening exercises for individual sports.

Susan Joy, MD, directs Ogonna Chukwuemeka at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. 

“The playbook aims to help make the return to sports safer for all athletes during this unprecedented time and incorporates literature review and multidisciplinary expert opinion,” said Susan Joy, MD, contributing playbook author. “Specifically, it gives athletes information on how to train smarter and maintain their health in a way that can help reduce the risk of injury when they get back in the game.”

The playbook also lays out information on how to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 when athletes play again. Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are outlined for on and off the field, including phased approaches for returning to every major sport, mask guidelines, hygiene recommendations, and what to do when an athlete or coach tests positive.

Total wellness

The mission of Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s sports medicine program, the largest in the country with more than 100 physicians and surgeons, is to care for the total health of athletes.

“Our main focus is performance and wellness,” said Dr. Weitzenberg. “We address the entirety of our patients’ needs, not just one piece like an injury. This includes sleep, nutrition, and mental health.”

The playbook emphasizes the importance of athletes’ mental health during the pandemic. It provides resources and includes information on mood, eating, and substance abuse disorders. Other sections offer immune function education, nutrition suggestions for different types of training, and sleep considerations — all vital to an athlete’s performance.

The playbook is available to all physicians in Kaiser Permanente Northern California, who can then provide it to members free of cost as a downloadable PDF.

Jason Brayley, MD, contributing author to the playbook, said although the playbook is geared toward athletes, it can be used by any member, regardless of activity level.

“This is a valuable resource for a broad spectrum of patients of all ages and skill levels,” Dr. Brayley said. “It’s focused on helping improve the whole wellness of our members.”

The COVID-19 Sports Playbook is frequently updated as new information on COVID-19 becomes available.



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