Coping with Athletic Injuries and Psychological Behaviors

Introduction

More often than not, injuries are devastating to athletes who train actively for ongoing sports events. What has been apparent to many, are the physical repercussion that injuries might have on them, but on the other hand, there are psychological and emotional repercussions that are not easily noticeable. Psychologist compare this distress to the grief felt when they have suffered loss. They recommend that it is about time people come to terms with the psychological effects that physical injury can have of individuals. These injured athletes go through a phase of social disconnect where they find it rather difficult to connect with their community of athletes, a factor that further leads to their isolation from others. Athletes experience a wide range of emotions when injured, some of which are idiosyncratic or even extreme but are all within the range of normal emotional responses. In the case of isolation, these athletes might harbor feelings of envy for other athletes who are able to compete. This feeling is then accompanied by guilt and shame or their inability to do the same due to their present situation (Andrews, Harrelson, & Wilk, 2012, p. 5).Others become victims of heightened anxiety that is related to their recovery speed and their sense of identity. Studies indicate that these feelings have similar symptoms, especially when compared to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients. Additionally, their full recovery may be hindered by fear of re-injury once they get back to their preferred sport as the may now fear for their future as athletes. As a result, depression is likely to set in, low self-esteem becoming apparent due to a sudden feeling of worthlessness (In Fleming & In Hanton, 2014, p. 297). Serious athletes are very much aware of their status I the sports community and are wrapped up in their identity. In case they are victims of a devastating injury, their self-worth is also diminished. From the few examples provided, it is rather apparent that there is need to incorporate strategies to deal with injuries in athletes on all facets. This research paper focuses on practical ways to cope with athletic injuries and the psychological behaviors that follow.

 

Literature Review

The first aspect that athletes should be offered after a devastating injury is social support. Human beings are primarily social beings and this is where the first line of treatment should begin. Here are numerous avenues that can be exploited to provide social support for the athletes. They include fellow athletes, friends, family, counselors and athletic trainers. Yang et al. (2010) contends that family and friends have the highest potential to provide emotional support to an individual due to the bond they just so happen to share. It is this bond that ultimately ensures that they are not the victims of stress when trying to cope with their injuries. The same study found that social familial support helps normalize the life of an injured athlete and within no time, they are able to recover both physically and emotionally. It is this kind of support that is crucial in ensuring that the athletes are in the right mindset that goes a long way in assisting them get back in shape through rehabilitation. Clement and Shannon (2011) were responsible for a study that gauged the perceptions of injured athletes with regard to their satisfaction from the support that they get from their athletic trainers, teammates, and coaches. The study found that fulfillment was not the immediate feeling among these athletes, there was a lowered level of social anxiety. An example is the social support that an injured athlete gets during the last stages of their strength and conditioning stage during rehabilitation (Crossman, 2001). The coach, in this case, offers task appreciation, listening support and task challenge as forms of social support to an athlete that they have been reconditioning to get back in shape. Student athletes, in particular, gain a lot when provide with social support from their coaches. Such support can act as a conduit that makes for a smooth transition for the athlete back into an active life in sports. It is also important that different genders have specific ways in which they may deal with their current situation and which social support group it is that they would want to choose. The study found that women find it easy to utilize friends as their social support system whereas their male counterparts make use of counselors, physicians and their athletic trainers (Yang et al., 2010).  It is these very systems that serve to improve their present situation.

Continuing to be positive in attitude is one beneficial trait that is applied regularly as a rehabilitation protocol. It is these positive attitudes that are used to drastically reduce the negative feelings that athletes harbor after injury that reduce the stress level of these athletes. Physiotherapy, in particular, is very beneficial to injured athletes that have aim to recover. They are offered important physical activities together with a chance to interact with their primary care giver (Lu & Hsu, 2013). These hope pathways offer the athlete a sense of emotional support ensuring that they are not victims of emotional distress. Abgarov, Jeffery-Tosoni, and Baker (2012) found that unhappiness and self-doubt and unhappiness were major causes of heightened stress levels in an athlete’s life. The only viable option is to have a supportive team whose sole goal is to motivate these athletes and create an environment that is less stressful for them. Intrinsic motivation used together with other forms mainly from the coaches and fellow teammates goes a long way in ensuring that they develop a positive mindset towards their current condition (Mensch & Miller, 2008, p. 40). They are now able to concentrate on the rehabilitation process and focus on the activities that are bound to hasten the recovery process that would see them get back on their feet. Intrinsic motivation is a proactive approach in ensuring that the return-to-play transition does not take longer than expected. A study by Mitchell, Rees Evans, and Hardy (2013) had its subject matter as moods, support, and stressors in a recovering athlete’s life. A mood scale was then used to determine the athletes feelings and they and they ranged from esteem, reorganization, isolation, feeling cheated, devastation, incapacitation, informational and a sudden loss of confidence. It was clear from the study that the mood experienced by an injured athlete has a direct effect on the recovery process. Negative emotions in particular, significantly slowed down the recovery time. Stress also made it difficult for them to cope, especially when in a new environment. The goal of providing clear support systems is to ensure that situations that stress a recovering athlete do not experience emotions that would hinder their recuperation.

Conclusion

Findings from the research presented in this paper first reveals that there is a direct relationship social support and the shortening of the recovery period to enable them get back to their sporting activity as fast as possible. Social support can be best provide by a personal coach, although it is possible for friends and family to also come in during this stage. During the recovering period, a personal coach can help the athlete first visualize the healing process and their return to play. This is done to get them in the right frame of mind that will allow them to battle the tough weeks ahead of them in their quest for complete recovery. It is this mental toughness that would help them recover. Additionally, they also need to set goals similar to the ones that they set during training only that these ones are meant to aid them directly in their recovery strategy. They should be realistic and most importantly, reasonable. They should be long term and short term goals that are achievable and can be monitored to gauge the progress being made. The goals should also be flexible enough to allow their attainment to be within reach as the rehabilitation process can be unpredictable. Additionally, emotional stress and feelings of dejection that are common during this phase can hinder the recovery process and should be avoided by any means necessary. When these feelings set in, the athlete finds it difficult to follow the set road to recovery due to hopelessness. An alternative here is to ensure that the athlete has a personal trainer who is always by their side motivating them to create positive attitudes that go a long way in improving their approach in dealing with their current condition. The athletes are also required to write down all the emotions that are related to their injury. Journaling in a committed and consistent manner helps manage he emotions experienced during this difficult period. They can now acknowledge the feelings that they harbor towards their present situation and adopt the best coping style that is bound to suit them and their lifestyle. Facing the unwanted realities is a huge step in an athlete’s recovery process and they are now able to deal with the injury. An athlete with limited coping strategies is better equipped to prevent injury and face rehabilitation once they have come to terms with their condition.

Limitations

The only limitation that exists in helping athletes cope with their injuries is that the psychological part of it has been ignored for a long time. There are coaches who focus only on the physical aspect of their athletes healing and recovery process forgetting about the psychological issues that also need to be dealt with. At the same time, there are also those who choose to completely ignore them knowingly and in turn exposing the patient to emotional ruin due to a lack of coping strategies. Athletes who only receive therapy for their physical injuries rarely make full recovery and even if they do, they often get injured again as they lack the strategy needed.

Practical Implications

It is now imperative for healthcare providers that are care for injured athletes to acknowledge and understand the importance of psychological coping strategies during the recovery phase (Hanton & Mellalieu, 2006). It is these rehabilitation protocols that would ensure that an athlete get back on their feet and avoids injury at any cost. The athletes would also be required to understand their range of emotions and how stress manifests itself during this process. They would now be equipped with the ability to deal with their emotional status first before involving other professionals to aid them in the same.

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