Injuries endured by athletes have an impact on the individual's physical and mental health. The emotions and stress suffered by the athlete varies with the severity of the injury. On one end of the spectrum, the injury may be nothing more than a minor, temporary inconvenience. On the other end of the spectrum, the injury may represent a dramatic life-changing event. Mental health practitioners who work closely with athletes recognize that mental skills are an important part of recovering from physical injuries.
The emotions experienced by an athlete following an injury are not unlike the stress someone feels after enduring various types of traumatic loss. They may feel angry with themselves for making the simple mistake that led to the injury. Perhaps they pushed their body despite noticing warning signs that indicated they should back off for awhile. Athletes may feel anger at the prospect that they let their teammates down and have now become a burden to the team.
Suffering an injury, enduring the physical pain and faced with the long road to recovery is understandably an isolating experience. Devoted athletes often breathe and live for their particular sport. However, following the accident, the life of the injured athlete seemingly comes to a standstill while team members continue training and participating in the sport. The athlete may now feel helpless, hopeless and worthless, especially if the seriousness of the injury prevents them from ever returning to the sport. An actual or imagined seriousness of the situation may lead to a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence.
Denial and Desperation
Athletes confronted with the likelihood of enduring months of inactivity to ensure proper healing followed by agonizing months of rehabilitation often feel frustration and may entertain self-pity. They may become depressed and contemplate giving up. The combination of being isolated, the lack of socializing with fellow team members and relative inactivity serve as fertile ground for negativity to enter and grow. Impatience may become overwhelming and tempt the recovering athlete to rush the healing process and begin training despite medical and professional advice.
Psychological and Physical Rehabilitation
In addition to proper medical treatment and adequate healing time, rehabilitation and recovery are successful when athletes also have access to psychological interventions when needed. A comprehensive rehabilitation program must include acknowledging and dealing with the emotional and psychological issues encountered by the injured athlete.
Once the time for physical rehabilitation occurs, therapists, coaches and trainers work with the individual to set short-term, intermediate and long-term goals. The athlete must then assume responsibility for progress by performing the necessary actions to meet and exceed the goals. While professionals commonly offer encouragement and support, the athlete alone must find the determination and motivation to fight against the pain and current physical inabilities to progress and succeed.