Plyometric Exercise in the Rehabilitation of Athletes: Physiological Responses and Clinical Application

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Plyometric exercise was initially utilized to enhance sport performance and is more recently being used in the rehabilitation of injured athletes to help in the preparation for a return to sport participation. The identifying feature of plyometric exercise is a lengthening of the muscle-tendon unit followed directly by shortening (stretch-shortening cycle). Numerous plyometric exercises with varied difficulty and demand on the musculoskeletal system can be implemented in rehabilitation. Plyometric exercises are initiated at a lower intensity and progressed to more difficult, higher intensity levels. The progression to higher-intensity plyometric exercise is thought to resolve postinjury neuromuscular impairments and to prepare the musculoskeletal system for rapid movements and high forces that may be similar to the demands imposed during sport participation, thus assisting the athlete with a return to full function. While there is a large body of scientific literature that supports the use of plyometric exercise to enhance athletic performance, evidence is sparse regarding the effectiveness of plyometric exercise in promoting a quick and safe return to sport after injury. This review will describe the mechanisms involved in plyometric exercise, discuss the considerations for implementing plyometric exercise into rehabilitation protocols, examine the evidence supporting the use of plyometric exercises, and make recommendations for future research.

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