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Injuries and setbacks

While we often discuss achievements in sport and the benefits of training, we don’t always talk about the darker side- when things don’t always go quite right. The things that lead to tears and disappointment in sport. As athletes, we might have heard of the phrases “No pain, no gain” and “Go hard or go home”. We might have even used such phrases as part of our self-talk. So when is hurting not appropriate in sport? Knowing the difference between discomfort to gain fitness and that nasty niggle is so tough. It can be hard to notice the differences between the two, and not knowing what is just that little bit too much. I’ve also heard of a number of people breaking bones just lately too, perhaps through falling off their bikes or participating in a race. “How long will I be out for?”, “When can I get back to X session” or “I hope I’ll still be able to race in X”. Do any of these questions sound even a little bit familiar? Being injured is exhausting. Not only is the body physically trying to piece itself together, we’re having mental battles with ourselves. How much is too much? When will I be better? Who am I if I’m not training? Is there anything we can do to manage our recovery and come back stronger- both physically and mentally? A lot of the information in this blog comes from Foundations of Sport and Exercise Physiology by Robert S Weinberg and Daniel Gould. The book has helped me to understand injury and why an athlete may feel a certain way towards the injury. How injuries happen The primary causes of injuries are overtraining, muscle imbalances, high- speed collisions and physical fatigue, however, there are also some psychological aspects that we don’t always consider. These include: personality factors, stress levels and certain attitudes that make us susceptible to injury (Rotella and Heyman, 1986; Weise & Weiss, 1987). Ultimately, if we live a stressful lifestyle, we can be predisposed to injury. Such stressors can be big- like a divorce or house move, or a number of smaller stressors like getting stuck in traffic and other daily hassles.It seems to be that while personality may have an affect on whether an athlete is predisposed to injury, an athlete that experiences high-stress is more likely to become injured than those without stress. A coach can help athletes to manage stress and training for a successful balance of both, at PeteWilbyTriathlon, we coach with the LENS philosophy to support our athletes.. L- Life E- Endurance Training N- Nutrition S- Strength We believe that a successful athlete operates with all of the above. Psychological Reactions to Exercise and Athletic Injuries Despite taking precautions to avoid injuries, whether you have employed a coach, risk assessed your training sessions and followed a healthy lifestyle, sometimes, injuries happen. Injuries are always a risk. Psychology experts noticed that after becoming injured, athletes will follow a five-stage grief response.

  1. Denial

  2. Anger

  3. Bargaining

  4. Depression , and

  5. Acceptance and reorganization

(Hardy and Crace, 1990) However, these stages do not just come one after the other, athletes experience them at different times and you can flit from one to the other (Brewer, 1994). Although emotional responses have not been proven to be fixed, injured athletes can expect to feel the following:

  1. Injury-relevant information processing “What’s the extent of the injury?”, “How did it happen?”

  2. Emotional upheaval and reactive behaviour - feeling shock, disbelief, denial and self-pity.

  3. Positive outlook and coping- positively accepting the injury and dealing with it.

Other reactions to injury can be

  1. Identity loss.

  2. Fear and anxiety.

  3. Lack of confidence.

  4. Performance decrements.

Signs that an athlete is poorly adjusted to injury The following symptoms are warning signs that an athlete is not well adjusted to injury (Petitas & Danish, 1995).

  • Feeling angry and confused

  • Obsession over when one can return to the sport

  • Denial

  • Repeatedly coming back to soon and experiencing reinjury

  • Bragging about accomplishments

  • Dwelling on minor physical complaints

  • Guilt

  • Withdrawal from significant others

  • Mood swings

  • Stating that recovery will not occur

How can sports psychology support recovery? Sports psychology can support an athlete through each injury phase. The injury-illness phase, the rehabilitation phase and the return to full activity phase. If you are looking to speak to a sports psychologist, we can thoroughly recommend Sophie Gibbs Nicholls. References Rotella and Heyman, 1986. Stress, injury and the psychological rehabilitation of athletes. Weise & Weiss, 1987. Teaching Sportsmanship and Values. Hardy and Crace, 1990. Dealing with injury. Petitas & Danish, 1995.The Sport psychologist-athlete relationship.


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