Mar 4, 2019, 11:45:42 AM CST Nov 8, 2019, 12:45:33 PM CST

How to cope after a sports injury

Learn about the psychological effects of sports injuries on athletes and the best ways to cope

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Injured baseball player watching game from sidelines Injured baseball player watching game from sidelines

A sports injury can be a major blow to athletes – physically and emotionally.

"Sports is a major part of many athletes' identities," explains Scott Burkhart, Psy.D., neuropsychologist at Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. "When athletes are suddenly injured, time away from practice and games can be very unnerving and upsetting."

Dr. Burkhart shares advice for coping with a sports injury and ways to stay motivated when injured.

Lean on your support system

"Athletes know the risk involved in sports, but no one thinks an injury will happen to them," says Dr. Burkhart. "Having a strong support system in place and applying the emotional coping skills you'd use in any other aspect of life can help manage some of the feelings associated with an injury – including surprise, denial or anger."

Dr. Burkhart encourages athletes to use the coping skills that work best for them, which may include:

  • Support from friends and family members not involved in the sport
  • Talking openly and honestly about feelings
  • Participating in activities outside of sports
  • Learning about their injury and the mechanics of their body
  • Setting realistic expectations

"Understanding an injury and how the body heals can help give athletes a little control back over their injury," he says. "It also gives athletes a good frame of reference on what they can expect during rehab and an understanding that what they are experiencing is normal."

Stay motivated during rehabilitation

No matter how long recovery will take, having the right care team makes all the difference in staying motivated while injured. One important team member is a physical therapist, who can evaluate your injury and develop a recovery plan tailored to you.

"A physical therapist is one of your best resources during recovery and rehabilitation," states Dr. Burkhart. "The right physical therapist can make mundane, routine exercises interesting and engaging to help athletes stay motivated. They want them to get back to normal and can respond to an individual's needs – whether that's adapting exercises for a bad day or answering complicated questions when you can't get in front of a doctor."

Friends and family play an important role during rehab, too. They can help encourage you – and when necessary distract you – to help keep you motivated and focused.

"It's also important to remember that just because you're not ready to get back to your favorite game, there are other activities you can do," Dr. Burkhart reminds athletes. "A doctor or therapists will get you involved in safe activities to let your body heal and strengthen so you can get back to the sports you love."

Accept a new reality

Some sports injuries are very serious and can affect players' long-term performance or even keep them out of the game for good. That can be very difficult for an athlete to accept. A strong social network and healthy interests outside of sports can go a long way in helping someone come to terms with their new normal.

"Sports specialization is a rising trend and one that can be unhealthy for many reasons," says Dr. Burkhart. "When an athlete spends so much time on one activity, it becomes a huge part of who they are. And when an injury takes that sport away, it becomes a major blow to the athlete.

After all, the beauty of sports is that it's still a game. And games should be fun. When children love what they do and enjoy the sports they play, their ability to recover and cope with an injury will be much higher."

Learn more

The team at Children's Health Andrews Institute can help athletes recover from injury. Learn more about our wide-range of services available to help athletes rebuild and improve their strength and stamina after injury.

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athlete, concussion, emotion, mental health, sports, sports injury, sports medicine

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