Athletic injuries run the gamut from the mild to the severe, and it can take a very long time to make a full recovery after an injury. There are two key aspects to making a come back from an athletic injury. First, of course, the injured athlete has to heal and recover physically. Second, the injured athlete must make a mental come back as well. The latter can be difficult, but there are several strategies to help.
The first step in recovering mentally from an athletic injury is to stop focusing on the ‘how’ and ‘why me’ of the injury. Once an injury has occurred, there is no going back. It is understandable to be sad or angry about the situation, but it’s important not to dwell on those feelings. It’s important to focus on the recovery process and the steps needed to get ‘back in the game’.
To recover mentally, an athlete needs to maintain a positive attitude. The athlete has to believe that, with hard work, they will recover. Part of maintaining this positive outlook is by establishing goals specific to the recovery process. These may be significantly different than pre-injury goals, but each time one of these new goals is achieved, it will help the athlete to remain positive and then work toward achieving the next step in the recovery process.
The mental healing process requires that an athlete fully participates in the physical healing process. Some athletes will resist what the physical therapists and doctors recommend. Instead of resisting, an athlete needs to fully cooperate and be engaged in the healing process. When an athlete is injured, it definitely helps (both mentally and physically) if the athlete has someone to talk to who has gone through a similar situation. An athlete who has suffered an injury and recovered can be an invaluable source of encouragement to an injured athlete. The athlete who has recovered can provide help and reassurance through the difficult stages – especially when there is a setback or when the injured athlete begins to lose hope.
When an athlete is well on the road to recovery, there is another mental roadblock that must be overcome. Most athletes will be afraid that they will get hurt again. This can make them too cautious. The athlete has to set irrational fear aside and move forward. The athlete has to have faith in the treatment team, recognizing that the team will not push them farther than the athlete is capable.
Recovering from a sports injury is never easy. But with hard work, an athlete can make a full mental and physical recovery.