This month we examine the painful topic of athletic injuries (ouch!) ... and offer some tips for successful coping.
Injuries were recently described as the greatest source of stress,
and single most important issue in sports. They may lead to
emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, and unhealthy
behaviors such as increased drug and alcohol abuse. These negative
moods and behaviors place the athlete at risk for prolonged
rehabilitation and further behavioral problems.
There are an estimated seventeen million annual sport injuries in the
United States alone, but surprisingly little research has examined
the consequence of sport injury or psychological factors which may
promote healing. For example, why do some athletes adjust to
injuries with increased optimism and effort, while others with even
less severe physical damage plunge into the depths of depression or
fail to comply with treatment recommendations? These types of
questions prompted me to pursue this topic for my dissertation at the
University of Florida.
Although more severe injuries obviously occur in contact sports such
as football and boxing, injured tennis players may also endure great
distress from any number of losses including lost playing time,
forfeited scholarships, decreased self-esteem, or simply the lack of
a pleasurable outlet.
Sport psychologists are becoming fully integrated members of the
world's best sports medicine teams, involved in all aspects of
athlete care including injury prevention, assessment and
rehabilitation. Whether you have access to a sport psychologist or
not, the following are some tips to help you, or those close to you,
in coping with a difficult sport injury. Keep in mind that these
tips are never a substitute for qualified professional care:
Stay healthy and I'll see you next month...
- Maintain a positive, yet realistic, attitude about injury
diagnosis and treatment options.
- Make sincere efforts to understand how the athlete interprets the
meaning of the injury, avoiding careless assumptions. This knowledge
defines the scope of the loss, and sincere empathy goes a long way
- Social support protects against many negative effects of stress.
The athlete should stay in touch with friends, family, and teammates
on a regular basis.
- Successful performance imagery should be used to keep skills and
strategies sharp, even when real practice is impossible. Regular
imagery can also be targeted to help defeat the fear of re-injury.
- Difficult yet attainable short- and long-term goals should be
set to monitor progress and speed recovery.
- Seek professional therapy when severe psychological distress is
suspected (e.g., depression or severe anxiety).