Curtis Basnett, PT, DPT, AT, OCS
You see it a lot in sports: an athlete gets hurt, comes back, and just does not quite seem the same. Something is off. The injury does not appear to be the problem. The (insert favorite appendage here) looks good, stronger than before even. Working in a physical therapy setting, we see this happen from time to time. The objective things improve (like pain, strength, range of motion, etc.) but the patient or athlete is struggling with getting back to normal. In these situations, the important thing to remember is that the injury is not the only thing that needs to be rehabbed. We also need to rehab what’s going on between the ears.
The mind of an athlete is probably the most important tool that can be used to get them better and back to their respective sport of choosing. Think about it: if you approach any task with fear, self-doubt, or any other negative thinking, you’re going to either A) not do it, or B) do it poorly. You have to be comfortable, confident, and positive that whatever you are going to do is going to turn out the way you expect. The only time that I have found this to not be true is when it involves my golf game. No matter how positive or coaxing I can be, that little white ball does not usually meet even my most modest expectations. But that is another animal all together.
Even though an athlete has physically recovered from an injury, they may not be mentally recovered. Research in the realm of psychology of injury and sports has grown substantially in recent years. More and more health professionals are progressing their respective treatment to include the mental side of healing. There are many articles, like the one listed at the end of this post, which discuss the psychological aspects of sports injury. This body of evidence is a great resource for anyone dealing with an injury, either personally or vicariously through someone else. The important theme from these articles is this: be positive and communicate. Talk about the injury, get it out there that it happened, and move forward from there. The following are some other ways that we can help the mental healing of the rehab process: positive self-talk, relaxation techniques, motivation, confidence training, appropriate coping, and imagery. All of these things, and more, need to be addressed to really get an athlete back to 100%.
We all know that injuries are not fun. No one wants to get hurt and have to miss time doing what they like, but it does happen from time to time. When it does, make sure the injury is not the only thing getting better. As physical therapists at Makovicka, we not only have a great opportunity to rehab any injury, but also to progress an athlete’s mentality about it. Although it may seem cliché, time wasted talking about how things are going is not time wasted at all. Make sure to keep the lines of communication open. They may just be the missing factors to a full recovery.
Reference: Wagman, D., Khelifa, M. Psychological Issues in Sport Injury Rehabilitation: Current Knowledge and Practice. Journal of Athletic Training.Blog reference article (1)