Return to Play Technology at Young Athlete Center

Return-to-play technology at the Washington University and St. Louis Children's Young Athlete Center is an evaluation tool to help the pros gauge athlete's readiness to get back in their game. 

Case Study: Allen Willis 

Allen Willis was diagnosed with his second ACL tear of the right knee and underwent surgical reconstruction July 1, 2021. He was treated for a right ACL and meniscus tear by Washington University Sports Medicine specialist, Jeffrey Nepple, MD, MS, who performed a knee arthroscopy and autograft with lateral meniscal repair. 

Allen then completed seven months of skilled physical therapy at the Young Athlete Center (YAC) following his operation.

In this video, Young Athlete Center specialists use Return to Play testing to look at Allen’s readiness to return to sports. With this testing, doctors and therapists are able to take a much closer look at his strength ratios from limb to limb relative to his body size. They use a series of balance and jump tests to assess his agility (ability to move quickly and easily), dynamic stability (ability to return to a steady and stable state after exertion) and neuromuscular control (controlled movement using the body's signals).

During this assessment, Young Athlete Center specialists takes it further by using 3-D technology and force plates (instruments that measure the force of a body standing or moving on them) to assess his movement and force distribution while jumping and landing.

Each of these specialized tests allows doctors and therapists to screen for abnormal biomechanics – such as issues in strength, stability, loading or function and motion faults – that could lead to increased risk of injury or re-injury. Therapists use the results to guide athletes in late-stage rehabilitation and help them return to their sports as safely as possible.

About the Technology: Return to Play

Return to Play technology is used to assess movement impairments in both healthy and injured athletes. It can help specialists objectively measure an athlete's movement quality and identify potentially at-risk movements. It is an excellent training tool to help athletes understand their movements in realtime. 

This technology is used during the entire rehabilitation continuum. It can be used early on in rehabilitation to help guide an athlete’s recovery, and it can be used at the end of an athlete's rehab to help inform return-to-play decision making. Additionally, it can be used on healthy participants, before an injury occurs, to help identify potential areas of weakness that should be addressed.

3-D motion analysis is technology primarily used in laboratories for research purposes. By placing the equipment inside the Young Athlete Center, where real athletes are going through rehab and recovery, specialists use this equipment to inform clinical practice. This enhances patient care and collaboration between WashU Ortho Physicians and therapists to improve the rehabilitation process for athletes.

The Young Athlete Center is utilizing the highest quality equipment to test a full battery of strength, balance, agility and neuromuscular control in one testing session. The ability of the Center's equipment to accurately measure movement and symmetry/asymmetry of these movements specifically directs treatment and inform provider and patient decisions.

Learn more about expert sports medicine care at Washington University Orthopedics.