Psychological Impact of Injuries on Athletes

Athletes can be deprived of their sense of self due to injuries increasing stress in their lives. This can further lead to a fear to re-injury, negative emotions, mood disturbances and a sensation of loss1. It is normal for athletes to experience a variety of emotions like feeling down, sad, angry, restless, irritable or anxious for several days after the injury and initial examinations. The awareness and understanding of the precursors including how the athlete appraises the injury, level of social support around him/her, severity of the injury and amount of self-worth defined by the sport could reduce psychological distress and help in the injury management process. Players go through a cycle of three emotional stages during Injury2:

Denial:

Denial is a stage where the athlete experiences a variety of feelings and emotions like confusion and agitation. These emotional experiences cause them to react in an unusual way, for instance isolating oneself, being aggressive, excessive sleep or vice versa. A feeling of disbelief about the situation occurs at the point of occurrence of a chronic injury. The refusal to accept facts is a cause of these feelings. The severity of denial can range on a continuum from mild to profound and vary across time or circumstances.

Distress:

In the stage of distress, the athlete experiences emotions like guilt, depression, humiliation, helplessness and anger.

Determined Coping:

The stage of determined coping involves acceptance of the severity of injury.  The purposeful use of coping resources in rehab process is initiated during this stage.

In the initial stages of injury, denial and distress will tend to be at their peak. There is a general trend toward determined coping as rehabilitation proceeds. However, shifts in emotional response from denial to distress to determined coping can occur at any time3.

Generally, an athlete’s emotional well-being will vary with his/her subjective sense of progress through rehabilitation. The time spent in each stage determines the ability of an athlete to effective injury management. Psychological interventions like goal setting, visualisation, stress management and relaxation techniques helps in enhancing the quality of sport injury rehab and in progressing over an athlete’s rehabilitation process. Sport Psychologists facilitate4 in enhancing confidence, fostering motivation for rehab, teaching mental skills to maximise recovery, removing mental barriers including self-doubts, overcoming emotional challenges of recovery, maintaining focus on positive and constructive aspects of rehab.

References

1.Naoi, A., & Ostrow, A. (2008). The effects of cognitive and relaxation interventions on injured athletes’ mood and pain during rehabilitation. Athletic Insight: The Online Journal of Sport Psychology.

2.Santi, G., & Pietrantoni, L. (2013). Psychology of sport injury rehabilitation: a review of models and interventions.

3.Podlog, L., Heil, J., & Schulte, S. (2014). Psychosocial factors in sports injury rehabilitation and return to play. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics25(4), 915-930.

4.Taylor, J., Stone, K. R., Mullin, M., Ellenbecker, T. S., & Walgenbach, A. (Eds.). (2003). Comprehensive sports injury management: From examination of injury to return to sport. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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