April 2022, Articles

Helping athletes come back from COVID-19

As part of learning to live with COVID-19, it is critical high performance athletes are provided with the guidelines, information and tools to enable a safe and efficient return to physical activity, training and competition after infection.

HPSNZ Director of Performance Health Dr Bruce Hamilton and HPSNZ’s team of NSO medical directors have contributed to a new set of athlete guidelines for this. The guidelines are founded on academic standards, international learnings from countries further along the COVID-19 journey, and New Zealand’s unique experience as a highly vaccinated country with many athletes having had no previous exposure to the virus.

The result is a set of practical, safe and effective guidelines for the country’s high performance athletes to return to their sport.

Healthcare sits at the heart of HPSNZ’s focus on wellbeing and Bruce  says the group had to ensure that the support and management of athletes following COVID-19 infection recognised that all elite athletes place high physical and mental demands on themselves, while they are each unique in their own health history

“The underlying principle of the approach taken is personalising the management and return to sport programme. Our approach has to recognise the risks for each individual and treat them on his or her merits, considering the history of risk factors, severity of symptoms along with sports requirements, to formulate a plan for return to sport.”

Bruce says that while the return to sport plan is individualised, it typically starts with a rest period during and immediately after infection, followed by a light aerobic programme, stretching and muscle activation.  After a review of an athlete’s status, progress through the guidelines will look to add in load, strength and conditioning training, followed by a return to group and sport specific training.

“However, if at any time we feel an athlete is not ready to return or progress, the medical practitioner may need to undertake further investigation and temporarily stop the return process.”

While many NSOs have their own medical director, contracted and overseen by HPSNZ, there are a good number that don’t.

“We are, however, fortunate in New Zealand we have so many skilled doctors who are up to date in this area.

“Our message to athletes is simple – your first ‘go to’ is your high performance doctor, sport medical director or your GP.  No athlete should feel isolated and without the best support to see them through a Covid episode and a safe and efficient return to sport.”

The detailed guidelines have been provided to NSO medical directors and you can check out the  Information sheet designed for athletes here. COVID-19 Infection Guidelines.