7 Things to Know for Injury Recovery.

Over the past 10-15 years psychologists, trainers, and coaches have become more and more interested in what goes on with an athletes mind when they incur an injury and how the process of injury or surgery recovery can impact the way they seem themselves as performers in the future.

I have worked with athletes in recovery from these and other injuries; ACL surgery, meniscus tears and surgery, Tommy John (UCL – ulnar collateral ligament) surgery, labrum surgery, ankle breaks, rotator cuff tears and surgery, and many others.

When these types of injuries occur, I have found the biggest psychological challenges come as the result of the following seven stage process; denial, anger, rationalizing, depression, acceptance, regrouping, and implementing a recovery plan. After the initial shock has subsided, anger starts to take over and they either become self abusive, or they lash out externally towards other people. The responses can vary, but the intensity of the response is generally dependent on how much the individuals self-concept is tied to their role as an athlete. If their identity of self is greatly contingent on their abilities as an athlete the loss of these abilities can sometimes be devastating.

There are, however a number of planned approaches an athlete can take during the process of recovery to mitigate longer term concerns about their ability to return to competition, and perform as good or better than they did before their injury. First, the fears surrounding re-injury should be addressed. Fear can often cause the athlete to lose the motivation to invest in the recovery process. Worry, and fear about the future can cause emotional distress, and anxiety and this can have a significant impact on how they view their future. Second, there is a period of adjustment that is critical to establishing the athlete’s attitude, and feelings about the recovery steps to follow.  Educating the athlete about the injury, the process of recovery, and what to expect about the future is very important to the recovery process. Let’s face it, the prospects for the future are unknown. The unknown often creates fear, uncertainty, and doubt which creates a significant strain on the athlete’s confidence. Third, the athlete’s support team should work together to create a written plan complete with the physical and mental rehabilitation components.

There should be a series of goals developed (long term, intermediate and short term) so the athlete can have a clear picture of the road map ahead. The intermediate goals serve as milestones that when achieved pave a promising and brighter road to reaching their longer term or dream goals.  This approach helps to create direction and empowers the athlete to remain motivated to complete the planned stages of the recovery plan.

The athlete’s self-confidence will develop as they experience the accomplishments made over the course of their rehabilitation program.  I think it’s important for the athlete to also keep a daily journal of their progress, their feelings about the present, and the dreams and goals they have for the future.  As part of the journaling process, the athlete would create 2 daily performance objectives (one mental and one physical) they intend to accomplish that day. At the end of the day the athlete would complete a series of self-appraisal and performance evaluation questions. The objective of this process is to give the athlete the opportunity to visually see the achievements they are making. Another objective of the journaling process is to keep pessimistic thinking dismantled by helping the athlete to explore their personal feelings about what has happened and what they are going through. The goal is to keep their motivation high, continue to build their confidence, and give them hope for the future.

I also recommend the athlete be encouraged to give self-reward on a daily and weekly basis for the accomplishments they have made in line with their intermediate milestones and the short terms goals they have established. The self reward process is very important as there will be ups and down throughout the course of the rehabilitation program. Often times the recovery process can be slow and positive reinforcement from the support team, as well as a solid repetitive process of creating and repeating daily positive self-talk statements can make or break the athlete’s maintaining the momentum to strive forward. Regular rehearsal of these positive statements and the reframing of negative statements into ones supportive of success will over time help to imprint a success oriented mental image in the sub conscious mind.

Successful completion of the rehabilitation program is the ultimate goal, but the overall psychological impact of the injury, surgery, and recovery process should not be taken lightly. Following successful completion of the recovery process its critical the athlete now be given and helped with managing a program of returning to the competitive environment. After all it could be as long as a year or more since the injury and self-confidence may be low, and fear of returning to the competitive arena may be high.

For more information about performance journaling, putting together a post injury, pre-surgery, or post rehabilitation re-introduction to competition plan together please send me an email, or fill out the contact us form on the web site. For more information about The Mental Edge Performance Journal mobile application please click here. It’s an excellent tool for every athlete to track performance, improve confidence, and take their skills to the next level.

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