• The Psychological Side of Sports Injuries: How Physical Therapists Can Help

    the psychological side of sports injury

    It’s likely that you or someone you know has been injured in a sports activity, whether it’s from participation in a team sport or just routine exercise. Not only does this affect you physically, but there may also be some mental health consequences.

    Not being able to participate in a sport or recreational activity you love can impact mental health and sometimes create a lack of identity, depending on the severity of the injury and the time it will take to recover.

    Research has shown that psychological interventions are associated with reductions in injury rates. Physical therapists (PTs) are instrumental in the physical recovery of an athlete, and help with mental support as well.

    Psychological Response

    The psychological response to a sports injury can negatively impact recovery or reintroduction, known as return-to-play, to the sport even after an athlete has physically recovered. The fear of not being able to play again or at the level before injury, and feeling isolated prior to and upon return to sport, are just some mental health factors that contribute to recovery.

    Working with health care professionals who communicate and set goals goes a long way to a better and more effective recovery.

    The Role of Physical Therapy

    PTs play an integral role in the recovery of the athlete in the following ways:

    • Treat your pain via movement, hands-on care, and patient education.
    • Motivate you to think positively and keep perspective about your injury and recovery.
    • Monitor your return-to-play and the psychological aspects to ensure both pieces are working toward your recovery.
    • Discuss exercises and the rehabilitation process with you in advance to reduce fear and anxiety.
    • Set goals and help you remain focused on your rehabilitation program.
    • Develop strategies for you to remain involved with your sport while injured, so you remain a contributor to the team.

    What You Should Do

    If you’re injured, be realistic about your injury and recovery—the severity of the injury and the demands of the sport will affect rehabilitation time. And don’t discount your mental health; seek a mental health expert if you feel it’s needed.

    Authored by the Ohio Physical Therapy Association.
    Reviewed by Jill Thein-Nissenbaum, PT, MPT, ATC, DSc, board-certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy.

    Resources

    Gledhill A, Forsdyke D, Murray E. Psychological interventions used to reduce sports injuries: a systematic review of real-world effectiveness. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52:967–971. Article Summary in PubMed.

    Psychological issues related to illness and injury in athletes and the team physician: a consensus statement–2016 update. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2017;16(3):189–201. PubMed.

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