Injury – physical or mental pain
Battling your way back to full fitness from injury can be a long, tough and difficult journey but ultimately rewarding. Often it can be a conflict between body and mind, head and heart as to how quickly you rehabilitate and return to sport. I have been on this torturous journey many times as have majority of elite athletes and at times it may feel easier to quit or give up when you see no immediate progress but recovery is never simple.
This is where psychology comes into it.
There are many aspects of psychology which can aid or hinder progression in relation to injury and it is maximising the positives which will ultimately boost progress. The first way to go about rehabilitation is to make a plan using long and short- term goals, namely things to achieve either daily or weekly and the overall goal of complete recovery and set an appropriate time frame – not too ambitious as not achieving will provide as a set back. This may involve specialist help to set manageable goals and help to succeed but also having a supportive framework around you through friends, family or teammates will provide a confidence booster when you progress.
However, even at this stage it may be tough especially when the end goal may seem a long way off and set backs may occur so this is where you need to train your brain to see the bigger picture, not be persuaded to return to early but also not let injury get the better of you. Practice imagining yourself achieving the smaller targets, but also consider the feeling when you finally hit that court/pitch/ gym and keep that at the front of your mind at all times. Imagine the feeling of performing again but without worrying about pain or injury. When doing the rehab exercises use positive self- talk to motivate and tell yourself you can and will achieve and don’t beat yourself up when something doesn’t happen immediately. Flourish on your determination to beat the injury and push your toughness limits to ‘try, try and try again’. Do not give up!
The worst thing to do is to return to early either because your heart rules and you want to be back, which ultimately acts as a set back due to the risk, because you want to be perceived as ‘brave’ by carrying on or are in denial as to how bad the injury is or that you are actually injured at all as this will only worsen and prolong the process. If you return early to your sport usually it will result in worsening the injury but also you will not perform at your best as your body is not ready. You may be distracted with worry and so not perform well or change your usual actions because of the injury. This will not help, a poor performance will only make you hate the injury and slow or halt rehab completely.
Finally, it may feel like a long and treacherous road to full recovery but ultimately it will be worth it when you are back to how you were at the top of your game. There will still be some nerves when you first return, even when you have completed all your goals and know you are ready, but you must not let the injury dictate forever. Once you have reached this point you are at the final hurdle and you need to be proactive to alleviate fear and tackle the situation which caused the injury head on. Surround yourself with positive people and use self- talk to say ‘you can do this, you are ready’ and you will succeed. Get back into your normal routine but make sure you are relaxed by using breathing control, mental imagery or perhaps listen to music pre- competition. Focus on the task at hand and believe you are ready. Your mind is the only thing that will hold you back from succeeding and once you’ve tackled that first day back it will feel completely normal and the injury will be the last thing on your mind.
So work hard, stay tough, accept the journey and approach it positively and you will achieve!
Theodorakis, Y., Beneca, A., Goudas, M., Antoniou, P., & Malliou, P. (1998). The effect
of self-talk on injury rehabilitation. European Yearbook of Sport Psychology 2, 124-135.
Weinberg R & Gould D, (2011), Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Human Kinetics
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About Emily Cheek
Sport and Exercise Science graduate. Working as a corporate health physiologist. Keen netballer.