Training through a sports injury.

Sport Injuries: The Psychology of Recovery

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“Recovering from an injury…AKA stuck inside and secretly hating everyone who is running!”

So what’s the big deal about sport injuries? Well let’s be honest, THEY SUCK! Sadly we all get them but how do we go about them and deal with them in a productive manner??

Before I start, let me just say that I am studying to be a Sports Psychologist. I still have a good 5 years of studying ahead of me (so my knowledge is still limited) and I’m not much of a writer (grammar has never been my strong point). Bearing that in mind, here goes my first blog post!

As some of you may know, I have had to deal with a rather harsh knee injury. There is nothing worse than sitting on the side-lines at races. Having this injury (like any other injury, I’m sure many of you can relate) is not only depressing but also demotivating. Studying sport injuries during my last year of undergraduate has really helped me to see my injury from a completely different perspective.

What causes injuries?

Well let’s start with some basics. Injuries can be caused by a variety of factors. Besides the obvious injuries such as attentional disruption (for example, where we don’t watch where we going and step in a hole), injuries are caused from not warming up correctly, muscle imbalances, increased muscle tension, being overconfident or tough minded (yup, arrogance does play a role here- drop that ego), state or trait anxiety and from overtraining.

Discomfort versus pain.

As the saying goes “no pain, no gain”, however, it is important to be able to distinguish between normal discomfort (such as from an increase in training load and volume) versus severe pain that results from or causes an injury. I’m not saying that when your muscles start to cramp during your workout that you should tell your coach to take it easy on you because you don’t want to get injured (and trust me, I have tried that, it doesn’t work. It just leads to more burpees!). No, I’m not saying that at all as in order to enhance in your overall performance, one does need to go through the different phases of training (such as overloading through positive overtraining- take note of the word ‘positive’) in order to reap those gains. However, your coach should monitor your training to make sure that you don’t reach staleness and burnout (but that is a whole new discussion…so I am going to leave it at that for now).

How do I react to my injury?

Okay, so you have the injury but how do you respond to it? The way we respond to an injury is vital, especially if you want to get back in the game sooner than later. There are different stages that one goes through before they accept the injury and start to have a positive outlook. Most deny the injury, feel angry, self-pity, may even feel a sense of identity loss and experience isolation before they actually accept it as a reality and deal with it accordingly. This involves positive coping efforts and a good attitude (easier said than done!).

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Your injury could be a blessing in disguise?

Evidently, injuries are not ideal but you can choose to see the benefits. There is always something to learn from your injury. Find out the cause of your injury and see what you can do to prevent it happening again (this is where your biokineticist is helpful). See your injury as an opportunity to work on a skill you have neglected. You can come back stronger and wiser than before. You will be grateful when you can see the positives rather than the negatives.

The role of Mental Skills in recovery.

As important as physical therapy is for rehabilitation, psychological skills training is just as important to facilitate recovery. Psychological coping skills that would benefit (to name a few) would include;

Goal setting. Set specific goals to do your rehab daily. Be realistic about the time you will need to get back into each phase of training.

Use positive self-talk. Being negative and pessimistic will not help you get back on the field. Stop those thoughts in their tracks and make an effort to change them into self-belief. “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right”.

Imagery/visualisation is one of the most valuable psychological tools when used correctly. Imagery takes practice for it to be effective. Visualize practicing skills that you are not able to do while being injured (yes, this has been proven to effect the nervous system similar to a real experience). Use vivid images that encompasses all your senses. Pay attention to detail- the surrounding environment, your emotions, the tension in the muscles you would be using. Control your images to visualize achieving the task at hand (It is very easy to replay mistakes and failure in your head).

Last but not least, injuries are stressful. Relaxation techniques help to regain focus on what you can and cannot control. Learn to control your anxiety. Deep breathing is always a goodie. Focus on expanding those lungs and contracting your diaphragm (which moves down) as you inhale, hold it, then push the air out as your rib cage contracts during the exhale (yoga is always another option- plus you burn calories!!)

Psychological skills training (PST).

This is where Sport Psychologists come in handy because psychological skills are important for enhancing performance, not only during injuries but also before, during and after training and competitions. Just like physical skills, psychological skills need to be practiced. PST is used by many of the top sports men and women. Athletes that use mental skills are characterized by higher self-confidence, efficient at self-regulating their arousal and stress, they are more determined, committed and have better concentration. These are key elements to being a successful athlete and are gained through skills such as goal setting, using imagery, arousal regulation, thought control, coping strategies and building their self-confidence. “The body achieves what the mind believes”. It is actually scary to think how powerful the mind is.

Don’t get discouraged.

It is easy to get discouraged when faced with setbacks in the recovery process. Having a good support base of friends, family, fellow athletes and sport practitioners helps to sustain motivation and adherence to your recovery. Learn from other athletes and don’t be shy to ask for their advice.

Listen to your body!

My advice would be to listen to your body!! Yes that “little” niggle you feel in your shoulder and that really tight ITB you may be feeling…What may seem as something relatively small now, can end up causing you to miss the next season of racing or worse, surgery. You may feel like it is okay now because you’re young and you don’t want to miss out, but then you are likely to end up being the one on crutches with a spectator shirt on, while your mates are running up mountains and playing on obstacles… Sounds crap right? Rather get that niggle checked- trust me, you DON’T want to be that person!

Prevention better than cure- Treat your body right.

Our bodies have to work really hard. Put back what you take out. Fuel your body correctly. Give those muscles and bones the nutrition they need. Go get a foam roller and go roll on that bad boy. Feel like your performance is hitting a plateau? …Give that body some REST. Find a good physio, fill that bath up with ice and help your body recover so that you can tackle your next training session stronger.

Train smart!

– Sabrina Daolio ⎮Nevarest Team ⎮OCR Athlete

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