By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • Athletes will occasionally face the very difficult decision to retire from their sport
  • This complicated and emotionally difficult process should be discussed carefully with those close to the athlete, and with others who?ve gone through the process
  • In our experience, an athlete retiring from one sport will almost always find another sport that?s fulfilling

In the past couple of weeks we?ve seen news of two sports superstars facing questions Sidney Crosbyabout their ability to continue in their sport. Sidney Crosby in the NHL, with a history of multiple concussions, appears to have had another concussion. And in golf Tiger Woods stated that he?s been making good progress physically from his back injuries, but still had to de-commit from two upcoming golf tournaments. I certainly hope these injuries don?t spell the end of their respective careers, but it still begs the question: when does an athlete have to think about retiring from their sport?

For young athletes there are three types of injuries I?ve seen over the years that unfortunately have a high potential to lead to an athlete?s retirement from a sport. One is recurring concussion, another is a stress fracture in the low back resulting in ongoing back pain, and a third is a re-tear of a prior ACL reconstruction. There are of course other medical issues that can lead to ongoing problems with sports, but I?d say these three are at the top of my list.

If you?re dealing with one of the above scenarios or possibly some others, you may be asking yourself whether it?s time to think about stepping aside from your sport. This can be an emotionally wrenching decision, very tough especially for a young athlete. You?ll want to discuss this carefully with your family, friends, coaches, and others who?ve faced the decision themselves.

If you have an orthopedic injury you?ll likely discuss possible retirement from your sport with your orthopedic surgeon. If you come see me or one of my partners and ask us the ?big question? we know that you?re not doing it lightly. An experienced sports medicine physician is very unlikely to be the one to tell you to step aside from your sport without you asking us, instead, the experienced sports medicine physician should listen carefully and only offer an opinion if you ask the question yourself. I remember listening to a talk from the renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews where he urged all of us to ?never be the first one to make the big statement?, which is advice we all try to adhere to.

ssd.bannerWhen do you need to think about stepping aside from your sport? This is a very?complicated question but from what I?ve seen most athletes have a way of figuring this out for themselves. Many will literally wake up one morning and feel that it?s time. When you have an idea that it might be time, seek out opinions from those you care about and have experience in the decision process. Know also that stepping back from one sport doesn?t mean that you?re shut out from all activities. It?ll take some time and it?ll likely be very difficult at first. Gently shutting one door usually means there?s another one opening.

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