Posted 01/03/2021 in Category 1

Recovering from sports injury

Recovering from sports injury


Everyone understands the physical toll that injury can take on an individual, but it is less common for people to talk about the psychological strain of an unexpected injury. You are often told to “stay positive” or “feel better soon” - but this is easier said than done, when you have just found out you’ll not be playing sport for a while. The sport that you may have devoted your life to. The sport that keeps you sane and is your happy place. The reality is, the psychological impact that an injury will have is huge, there is no question. But finding ways to cope and help you through it will make it easier. 


Psychologists often refer to resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or significant sources of stress”. It takes both physical and mental resilience to recover from an unexpected injury. Emotional responses to injury often include feelings of isolation, sadness, irritation, feeling disengaged, lack of motivation, the list continues. It can even in some cases result in feelings similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You should always be prepared for injury (especially if you play contact sports) but not knowing when it’s going to happen is what catches most athletes out.  As stated by Crossman (1997, p. 334) “Getting injured is a traumatic experience for athletes; what they have devoted so much time and energy to, can be suddenly, without warning, taken away.” Below are some ways of managing psychologically with sports injury. 

Ways to cope:

  1. Accept reality: This is one of the most difficult yet important things you can do whilst trying to recover. You can’t change the past, so beating yourself up on the what ifs will only harm your recovery. Instead try to embrace the reality and try to find ways to contribute towards your recovery instead of hindering it.
  2. Setting new goals: Goal setting is common amongst athletes, as it boosts your motivation, confidence and allows reflection on where you were and where you are now. It has the same affect if you are injured. Goal setting gives you (the athlete) an active role in the healing process helping to improve self-confidence and reduce anxiety. The goals should be realistic yet challenging and should be performance not outcome orientated.
  3. Redirect your energy: The simplicity of doing nothing or not leaving your bed all day because you’re injured is what catches most athletes out when recovering. You need mental stimulation, something to keep you occupied. It can be anything from cooking to learning an instrument, the important thing being that you can just get stuck into it, helping to take your mind off the disappointment of the injury. 
  4. The final point relates to the injuries that are a bit more severe and may cause issues similar to PTSD. As stated by Aron et al., 2019 “Athletes may exhibit greater rates of PTSD (up to 13%–25% in some athlete populations) and other trauma-related disorders relative to the general population.” By trying to understand PTSD, the effects it has and what can happen if it’s left untreated can be a big step in having an easier recovery. You could also use community recourses, see who else may be suffering or find someone who may treat PTSD. This can prevent feelings of isolation by understanding that you’re not alone.


Recovering from injury can be draining, both mentally and physically. Treating the injury physically is half the battle. Understanding how to combat the injury mentally is when you’ll start to see the progress. Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you’re not seeing improvements, recovery doesn’t happen overnight. And remember, If you don’t recover emotionally, then have you fully recovered at all?


This guest blog has been prepared by Charlie Goode who is a second year sport and exercise science student at Leeds Beckett University. 


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