Trainers, coaches, and researchers are only now beginning to understand the full psychological effects that injuries have on athletes, especially after they return from an injury. Unfortunately, we’ve observed a clear disconnect between the physical reality of a sports injury and the psychological responses to that injury. A recent study concluded that serious athletes frequently report higher levels of confusion and perceive their recovery to be less effective toward the end of rehabilitation than non-athletes do.
A Traumatic Sports Injury can truly hurt the overall Pshyee of an athlete.
The Mental Health of Injured Athletes
Although most injuries can be managed to minimize time spent on the sidelines, a severe injury can end a player’s season in a matter of seconds. For some athletes, the psychological response to a long-term injury can trigger mental health issues such as:
- Sadness or depression
- Lack of motivation
- Changes in appetite
- Trouble sleeping
Every athlete responds to injury differently. But coaches, athletic trainers, parents, and athletes themselves need to be aware of the warning signs that psychological issues may be having a negative impact on the recovery process. While emotional responses due to injury are natural, we need to ensure that they do not gradually increase over time and inhibit return to play. Sports injuries can also negatively impact the quality of life for student-athletes by resulting in decreases in GPA and lower graduation rates.
Even after an athlete is able to participate in sports again, the psychological responses to injury do not simply go away. One study found that “fear of reinjury after a sports injury can negatively affect the recovery of physical impairments, reduce self-report function, and prevent a successful return to sport.”
As a result, athletes experiencing reinjury anxiety may benefit from a psychologically informed practice approach to improve rehabilitation outcomes. The fear of reinjury results in both psychological and physiological responses that negatively affect performance.
From a psychological perspective, reinjury anxiety can lead to:
- Decreased concentration
- Increased distractibility
- Decreased self-confidence
- Increased pain awareness
At the same time, reinjury anxiety can result in physiological impairments such as:
- Specific guarding/bracing
- Generalized tension
- Increased heart rate
- Neurochemical changes*
These effects can affect performance by disrupting the biomechanics of skilled movements, mismanaging energy resources, decreasing attention, and increasing the risk of reinjury.
Revolutionizing Sports Medicine
How can we go about solving the psychological problems associated with sports injuries? At EliteX 360, we’re committed to adopting a holistic approach to sports medicine and movement science. Movement data drives our analytics, and our proactive approach and treatments also include psychological recommendations to mitigate reinjury anxiety and negative emotional responses.
Providing athletes with more detailed analytics and timelines can help assure them that their recovery is on track and that their bodies are truly ready to return to play when the time comes. That way, they have the confidence to play at a championship-caliber level when the game is on the line.