How to Cope With a Sports Injury

Man putting some ointment on a woman's shoulder

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Coping with the stress of an injury requires both physical and psychological resilience. Sports injury recovery typically focuses on physical rehab, but it's also important to include sports psychology techniques to help recover mentally and emotionally.

Athletes react to injuries with a wide range of emotions which may include denial, anger, sadness, and even depression. An injury often seems unfair to anyone who has been physically active and otherwise healthy. Although these feelings are real, it’s important to move beyond the negative and find more positive strategies to cope with this setback. In many cases dealing gracefully with an injury helps an athlete become more focused, flexible, and resilient.

7 Ways to Cope With the Emotional Stress of an Injury

Here are some sports psychology strategies you can use for faster injury recovery.

Learn About Your Injury

The more you know about the cause, treatment, and prevention of your injury, the less it can cause fear or anxiety. Ask the following questions of your doctor, trainer, coach, or therapist until you know exactly what you can do to heal quickly and fully:

  • What is my diagnosis (what type of injury do I have)?
  • How long will recovery take?
  • What is the purpose of the treatments I am receiving?
  • What should I expect during rehab?
  • What alternative workouts can I safely do?
  • What are the warning signs that I am getting worse?
  • What are my treatment options?

By understanding the injury and knowing what to expect during the rehabilitation process, you will feel less anxiety and a greater sense of control and confidence. If you are uncomfortable with any of your care team's responses, feel free to get a second opinion, especially if surgery is recommended.

Accept Responsibility for Your Injury

This is not to say that the injury is your fault. What this means is that your mindset needs to change. Instead of focusing on performance, you need to accept that now you have an injury and you are the only one that can fully determine your outcome.

By taking responsibility for your recovery process, you will find a greater sense of confidence and will quickly progress in recovery, rather than pushing yourself to perform at your pre-injury level.

Maintain a Positive Attitude

To heal quickly you need to be committed to overcoming your injury by showing up for your treatments, and listening and doing what your doctor and/or athletic trainer recommend. You also need to monitor your self-talk—what you are thinking and saying to yourself regarding the injury and the rehab process.

Your self-talk is important. To get the most out of your daily rehab, you need to work hard and maintain a positive attitude. Remain focused on what you need to do, not what you are missing out on.

It is important to try to maintain a healthy work-life balance as well. Some people are highly motivated and work extra hard to get back in the game, while other people get discouraged and slack off on therapy. Setting small daily or weekly goals that build momentum can help you stay balanced as you reach your end goal of healing.

Use the Mind to Heal the Body

Growing research shows that it may be possible to speed up the healing process by using specific mental skills and techniques such as imagery and self-hypnosis. Imagery techniques use all of the senses to create mental images, feelings, and sensations related to the desired outcome as though it is happening now or has already happened.

Get Support

A common response after an injury is to isolate yourself from teammates, coaches, and friends. It's important to maintain contact with others as you recover. Your teammates, friends, family, and coach can listen when you need to vent or can offer advice or encouragement during the rehab process.

Surround yourself with positive people and others who can cheer you on as you recover and boost your spirits when you are feeling discouraged.

Just knowing you don't have to face the injury alone can also be a tremendous comfort. So, go to practice; remain around the locker room and the weight room. Be visible by being an active member of the group.

Set Appropriate Goals

Just because you are injured doesn't mean you stop planning or setting goals. Rather than viewing the injury as a crisis, make it another training challenge. Your goals will now focus on recovery rather than performance. This will help keep you motivated.

By monitoring your goals you will also be able to notice small improvements in the rehab of your injury. You will feel more confident that you are getting better and improving.

Remember to work closely with your therapist or doctor. They can help you set realistic goals that are in line with each stage of your rehab. Most athletes have a tendency to try to speed up the recovery by doing too much too soon. It is important to accept that you are injured and know your limits.

Maintain Your Fitness While Injured

Depending upon the type of injury you have, you may be able to modify your training or add alternate forms of training to maintain cardiovascular conditioning or strength. Work with your trainer, therapist, or physician to establish a good alternative workout program. If you can't run, perhaps you can cycle or swim.

Work on relaxation training and flexibility, as well. Create a modified strength training program, do a limited amount of exercise to maintain cardiovascular fitness or focus on better nutritional health.

A Word From Verywell

With the right knowledge, support and patience an injury can be overcome without turning your whole world upside down. By taking things slow, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a positive, focused approach, most athletes can overcome minor injuries quickly and major injuries in time. Make sure you see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for any injury.

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