Physical pain accompanies almost all injuries, and athletes deal with it. However, many athletes are unprepared for the mental distress that ensues. Pain subsides over time, but mental anguish about an injury can be difficult to overcome.
“What athletes fear is not so much pain or the difficult rehab as much as losing playing time,” says Dr. John Murray, a clinical and sports performance psychologist. “Everything they’ve accomplished over the years is jeopardized by the threat of moderate or serious injury.”
Instead of dwelling on your injury, you must try to ay positive and welcome the challenges ahead. A positive mindset not only helps with motivation for rehab, it also builds character, through hard work and determination.
When it’s time to return to athletic activity, you will face one remaining obstacle: feeling confident that you will not reinjure yourself. Dr. Murray emphasizes that athletes need to trust that they are healthy—supported by their doctor's opinion, medical test results from MRIs or X-rays, and trial runs in their sport. He says, “Push it beyond what you would normally do, so you can experience a little bit of the pain that may still be there.” He also suggests removing the injury from your mind by focusing on game play and skills during practices.
- Follow the doctor's or therapist's orders exactly as prescribed. You're in the hands of experienced professionals. Parts of rehab, like icing, may seem tedious and unproductive, but they will expedite the healing process if performed with diligence.
- Some athletes believe they can miraculously heal faster than others. Doctors take into account that young, physically fit individuals can have a slightly faster healing process. But accelerating ahead of a rehab schedule is not recommended.
- Clear communication between athletes and their doctors is important. You need to understand your injury and the expected recovery time, and your doctor needs to know about any physical pain you are experiencing or any concerns you have.
- Upon returning to athletic activity, it’s crucial to establish reasonable expectations. You will not step onto the field after an injury and immediately perform like nothing happened. Athletes and coaches should discuss goals and expectations and plan to gradually work back to game form.
- If you suffer an injury to your upper or lower body only, then, with your doctor's approval, continue to train the uninjured parts of your body. This will ensure that you will only need to retrain the injured part before returning to competition.
Photo: Boston Globe