Inova’s Sports Cardiology Program Supports a Safe Return to Exercise

With temperatures warming and COVID-19 infections waning, many are now asking themselves: “How do I safely get back to exercising?”

Inova’s Sports Cardiology Program aims to answer this question for those who have not exercised in a long time, have recovered from COVID-19, or have had cardiac events or interventions.

M. Casey Flanagan, MD, FACC, established the program after serving nearly two decades in the U.S. Navy helping to return service members to active duty following cardiac procedures. His goal is to better serve a wide range of athletes and physically active individuals of all ages and skill levels, with and without cardiovascular disease, with the goal of maximizing their performance.

While COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, emerging data has demonstrated that infection can result in damage to other organs. Up to 22 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 suffer from cardiac damage. Long-term cardiac consequences from the illness remain unknown, but sports cardiologists are concerned that lasting effects could increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms in athletes during exercise.

“Sports cardiology is more aggressive in its holistic approach to safely returning patients to the playing field without limiting exercise. We place an emphasis on the mental and physical upsides to exercise, which allows patients to have a more active role in their treatment and training plans,” said Dr. Flanagan, Medical Director of Inova’s Sports Cardiology Program.

The program is dedicated to evaluating, diagnosing and treating young, master, recreational or professional athletes, enhancing their level of fitness and ensuring healthy exercise and competition.

Program services include:

  • Cardiac evaluation for participation clearance
  • Risk assessment
  • Cardiovascular examination
  • Lab tests
  • Diagnostic cardiac tests
  • Electrocardiograms
  • Guidance for athletic participation after cardiac procedures or limitations
  • Treatment of chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, palpitations or fainting
  • Evaluations for diminished athletic performance due to cardiovascular offsets of medications

Inova’s Sports Cardiology Program collaborates closely with Inova Sports Medicine to create a unique treatment and training plan for each patient based on sport and lifestyle.

After an initial consultation, the program takes a team approach, incorporating experts from a variety of specialties based on the patient’s symptoms and pathology. These experts practice in areas such as cardiology, cardiovascular disease, structural heart disease, cardiogenetics, cardiac imaging, adult and pediatric electrophysiology, and exercise physiology.

Inova’s Sports Cardiology Program also works with the Washington Nationals to implement thorough cardiovascular screening to all athletes and club members. In particular, the program has extensive experience working with athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19, ensuring a safe return to the playing field.

“As athletes of all levels return to play following a COVID-19 infection or prolonged quarantine, consultation with sports cardiology can ensure safe exercise at peak performance. We follow the return-to-play algorithm developed by the National Football League and Major League Baseball, which can be adapted and tailored for recreational and master athletes, all the way down to college and high school athletes, so that they can get back to the game at peak performance,” said Dr. Flanagan.

Individuals of all ages and skill levels can benefit from the program’s services, including:

  • Previously diagnosed COVID-19 patients who are experiencing post-COVID-19 syndrome or who wish to return to exercise safely following infection and prolonged quarantine
  • Those with no known medical problems who want to safely return to sports or exercise after a long period of not participating (due to the pandemic or other issues)
  • Athletes who have had cardiovascular surgery and want to get back to exercising, but are afraid to stress their hearts
  • Athletes who experience cardiovascular issues during exercise
  • Athletes who received abnormal or a variance of normal test results and wish to explore these findings through further testing
  • High school or college athletes who want to improve their performance and overcome limitations through further evaluation and testing

To learn more, watch the recording of Dr. Flanagan’s June 15, 2021 virtual Ask the Expert webinar:  Spring Back into Sports: What You Need to Know About Exercise and Your Heart.

To schedule an evaluation with an Inova physician, call 571.472.2900 or email

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