On Field Progression of the Controlled to Uncontrolled Chaos Continuum

Dr. Mary Kate Casey’s On Field Progression of the Controlled → Uncontrolled Chaos Continuum

On Field Progression – Why do we document everything else in our rehab but the most important stuff.  We record reps, sets, and time for our athletes when they are running, jumping or completing strength exercises, but we have failed our patients by not properly PRESCRIBING return to sport controlled to uncontrolled play.  

We are trusting our “gut” on frequency, intensity and duration and therefore are missing a proper evidence based progression when it comes to the on field sport specific activities and game play.  We are allowing athletes to compete in drills based on their psychological readiness and often forget to properly DOSE return to play as an exercise prescription.  This is often missed because more often than not because unless an athlete is rehabbing in college or as a pro,  patients are not monitored by a PT, ATC or strength coach during their practices. As rehab professionals, we are failing our patients by not giving our patients clear guidelines and specific drills and activities they can participate in during practice.  All too often we are keeping our athletes out until the 9 month mark, and then let them go from 0-100 without introducing them to contact and game-like play in a controlled setting. 

We treat this phase of rehab as a question mark.  We ask our players… Do you think you can go 100%? Do you feel ready to play with a defender making contact? Do you need to come out? Or Do you think you can play for 30 min?.  

After doing A LOT of research and realizing there is a lack of research in the Return to Sport Strength and Conditioning and Return to Contact Play area, I began creating my own advanced Return to Sport and Return to Contact protocols. As an elite lacrosse player, the Return to Run programs out there didn’t have the appropriate intensity and there nothing out there regarding contact play but one article by Matt Tabenar in the UK, I have modified his Controlled Chaos Continuum and made it my own.  I have developed a more clinical, specific, reproducible, and actionable model in which medical professionals can communicate to each other via the athlete and evidence based programming.   I am starting to call this Phase 6 of ACL rehab, as it currently is the “why not, let’s give it a try phase”.  With little evidence or knowledge to support the decision making, the fatigue factor that often lands our athletes on the sidelines not too soon after returning to sport with compensation injuries or the ever so dreadful re-injury. 

It’s not if an athlete is going to get reinjured, it’s when. This sounds very pessimistic, however its the truth.  The stats are stacked against us and we as medical professionals need to do more about it. We need to start solving the problems we see everyday in our offices and we need to start making a change.  

If we can take a more controlled and evidence based approach to On field Progressions, our athletes will be safer in returning to sport and will have had the exposure and reps they need to feel confident, prepared and conditioned to participate in a full contact game without time restrictions. 

On Field Progression of the Controlled → Uncontrolled Chaos Continuum 

Return to Participation

  • Progressing reps, sets, and enforcing time limits
    • Non-contact Drills→ Controlled Non-Contact Play → Controlled Contact Drills→ Controlled Contact Play → Uncontrolled Contact Drills (progressing reps, sets, time limits)→ Uncontrolled Contact Play
    • Non-Contact Drill- Lacrosse Shooting on goal 50% of speed, focus on change in direction landing and loading, 20 reps, 2-3 times per practice 
      • 3 man weave 

Return to Sport 

  • Progressing reps, sets, and enforcing time limits
    • Controlled Contact Drills- 1v1 – Attacker goes 100% but defender goes 50% limiting contact and aware of injury- 10 min 
    • Controlled Contact Play- 7v7 – Attacker goes 100% but defender goes 50% limiting contact and aware of injury- 10 min 

Return to Performance 

  • Progressing reps, sets, and enforcing time limits
    • Uncontrolled Contact Drills- Lacrosse 1v1 attacking player goes 100%, no limits on defender, 10 reps
    • Uncontrolled Contact Play but Controlled Fatigue Factor
      • Uncontrolled Contact Play-  100% attacker and defender in game play ½ field, subbing in and out every 5 mins for a total of 30 min per game 
      • Uncontrolled Contact Play-  100% attacker and defender in game play ½ field, subbing in and out every 10 mins for a total of 40 min per game 
      • Uncontrolled Contact Play-  100% attacker and defender in game play full field, subbing in and out every 10 mins for a total of 40 min game
      • Uncontrolled Contact Play-  100% attacker and defender in game play full field, subbing in and out every 20 mins for a total of 50 min game
  • No time Restrictions 
    • Uncontrolled Contact Play-  100% attacker and defender in game play full field 
  • Player Initiated (controlled) and Play reactive
    • Preplanning vs reactive 


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It’s important to note that the athletes first full game should NOT be the first time they are cleared to play.  We need to do a better job of communicating with players, parents and coaches on the dosage of return to full play restrictions and how that will in turn not only provide safety for the athlete but improved performance and safety in the game.  Following this protocol, we aim to reduce the risk of re-injury, muscle strains and compensation injuries, all while giving the athlete more time to gain exposure in real game-like  situations without pushing vulnerable and fatigued muscles over the limit.  

In addition to following on Field Progression of the Controlled → Uncontrolled Chaos Continuum, it is imperative that these recovering athletes prioritize active recovery days and listen to their bodies when progressing into full Return to Performance protocol.  


Taberner M, Allen T, Cohen DD Progressing rehabilitation after injury: consider the ‘control-chaos continuum’British Journal of Sports Medicine 2019;53:1132-1136.

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Therapeutic Exercise

For Balance and Condition, with Therapeutic Exercise, we have our best physical therapist at Prep Performance Center in Chicago.

When you say the words “physical therapy” most people automatically assume you have had surgery. Yet physical therapy goes beyond post-surgical care restoring strength, endurance, flexibility and stability to people who have been injured, are in pain, or have experienced an illness. Through therapeutic exercise, it is possible to have your function restored and live a life that is pain free. Contact PREP Performance Center in Lincoln Square, Irving Park, Lakeview, Horner Park, Roscoe Village & Ravenswood Chicago, IL to schedule your appointment and find out how we can relieve your pain.

What is therapeutic exercise?

The goal of any exercise program is to leave you feeling healthier and stronger than when you began. Therapeutic exercise has similar goals, but incorporates a wide range of activities that help you regain or maintain your strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, or stability. Whether you have been injured, experienced an illness, or are simply noticing you are losing your physical abilities, therapeutic exercise can prevent impairment and disability while improving your overall fitness. Typically performed as a part of a physical therapy treatment plan, this type of exercise is prescribed by a physical therapist. See related article from media.lanecc.edu.

Types of Therapeutic Exercises

Each therapeutic exercise is classified by its purpose.

  • Range of Motion – These exercises are aimed at increasing the range of motion in your joints and soft tissues. This may be done through active, passive or assisted stretching activities designed to help your joints move better, without pain.

  • Muscle Performance – Increasing power, endurance and muscle strength is vital to good balance and stability as well as bone and joint health. Resistance exercises and endurance exercises are designed to increase muscle strength without injury.

  • Posture – Hours spent at desks, bending over keyboards, poor muscle tone, or simple habit can all lead to terrible posture. What you may not realize is that posture has a direct impact on muscle strength, balance and a tendency toward injury. Posture exercises are aimed at correcting poor posture, not just when you exercise, but in your life in general which can alleviate aches and pains.

  • Balance & Coordination – Every time you stand or sit, bones and muscles work in conjunction with one another to help you remain upright. Every time you stand, walk, sit, brush your teeth, cook a meal, or take care of your daily activities, you are testing your coordination between the muscular and skeletal systems in your body. Your ability to care for yourself or your loved ones depends on your ability to balance and the coordination of your arms, legs, hands, and feet. That is why balance and coordination exercises are so important, especially after an injury or illness. If you cannot balance, if you lose coordination, you lose the ability to care for yourself.

  • Relaxation – Relaxation is part of therapeutic exercise? You bet! While it is important to work the muscles, joints, and soft tissues in the body, it is also important to help them relax. Pain relieving techniques including heat, cold, electrical stimulation, massage, or trigger point therapy can all help the body relax, improve your sleep, lower your blood pressure, and keep you coming back for more exercise!

  • Area Specific Exercises – It’s easy to think of exercise as something we do with our muscles, but it is also important to help the body’s other systems. In these cases, exercises that target breathing or circulation may be recommended to help speed healing, improve blood flow or lower stress on the body.

How does therapeutic exercise relieve pain?

It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you are in pain. After all, the last thing you want to do when you are uncomfortable is make yourself more uncomfortable. Yet when you treat pain with medication and rest, you are only allowing the supporting muscles to weaken, causing greater pain and less functionality of the area. A physical therapist is trained to evaluate your body’s function, strength and range of motion as well as your pain levels when you perform basic tasks. They can then create a customized treatment plan, including therapeutic exercise, that can strengthen weak areas, restore function to healing or surgically repaired joints, and reduce your overall pain levels. Not only can you experience a pain free life, you can do so with greater strength and endurance than before. Still curious how physical therapy services and therapeutic exercise can help you? Let us conduct an evaluation and help you get on the road to recovery.

For more information, Contact PREP Performance Center at Lincoln Square, Irving Park, Lakeview, Horner Park, Roscoe Village & Ravenswood Chicago, IL centers.

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