Injury is a major obstacle to successful sports performance. Injury may be minor or career ending, and there are psychological concerns with both. The ability to rehabilitate well when an injury happens can be the key to psychologcial well-being and returning to sport. I was personally exposed to the psychologcial impact of injury as a young athelte, when a doctor told me I would never play tennis again. Luckily, I did not believe the prognosis and went on to rehabilitate and compete again. This is where the benefits of using a sports psychologist can help atheltes deal with the frustrations, fears and change of routine. Athletes may fear reinjury and this can be due to both psychological and physiological factors, slowing down rehabilitation (psychophysiological mechanism of risk). A rehabilitation program can include goal setting and social support to help the athlete proactively limit their fear of reinjury. Several factors have been found to help athletes with a fear of reinjury.
- Normalise the experience
- Reassure the athlete that fear is not a problem
- Empathise the adaptive value of fear
- Clarify the current status of the injury
- Reassure the benign nature of pain
The stress response atheltes experience can be a major contributer to atheltes suffering injury. Stress may lead to generalised muscle tension, narrowing of the visual field, and inceased distractability. Unwanted simultaneous contraction of agaonist and antagonist muscles can result in muscular guarding or bracing. This can lead to reduced flexibility, motor coordination and muscle efficiency. The result of these issues is that the athlete may set themselves up to strains, fratures or sprains. The impact of stress on the athlete can results in poor performance of motor patterns required to move effctively, therefore a football player may get taclked and injured to poor movement.
Narrowing of the peripheral vision during stress can lead to tunnel vision during a crucial part of the game, and high stress life events has been linked to this in athletes. Visual narrowing can lead to atheltes picking up less cues from the environment, which could be crucial to avoid an injurious situation e.g. a rugby player being tackeld from the side. Atheltes can experience attentional distractability, which predisposes them to injury if their attention if diverted elsewhere, resulting in them being taken off task e.g. a gymnast is distracted and loses her grip, slips and falls. In addition to physical injuries, athletes are at risk of psychologial injuries as a result of participiting in sport. Overtraining syndrome, eating disorder and even drug abuse all can have an impact on the atheletes psychology and performance. There are also emotional, social and financial costs to being injured, resulting in further contrbuting elements to their psychologcial impact. Interacting psychologcial and physical factors can be hightened during competition, especially the feat of injry or reinjury, ultimately resulting in worsened performance. The athelete can become preoccupied with bodily sensations stemming from the injury and perceive these as an injury, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle. The subclinical psychologcial adjustment syndrome is most likely to happen when an atheltes injury is severe and threatens their sporting career. This can result in the athlete having a delay in mental readiness to return and can result in psychologcial distress. To identify this sydrome, the following beavioural signs may be present.
- Unusual pain complaints
- Sleep disuturbance
- Situational anxiety
- Compliance issues
- Rehabilitation setbacks
- Excesssive or awkward optimism
- Poor understanding of rehabilitaton
If you would like support for your injury and return to sport, then please get in touch and I would be happy to help you on the road to recovery.