Healing the injury isn’t always the toughest aspect of rehab Injury rehab can be very tricky territory for many athletes to navigate successfully. Athletes can easily be caught off guard by feelings of isolation and uncertainty of how to help themselves recover. The clear trauma is the physical injury, the tear, break or bruise. The less obvious trauma is the mental, emotional and social impact that often accompanies physical injuries. Below is a list of some of the common challenges and solutions for young athletes who find themselves in this difficult space of injury recovery. ■ Mental trauma: Often times when a severe injury occurs, it changes how athletes think about themselves. Negative self-talk such as, “I’m never going to get back to where I was physically,” or “I’ll never catch up with my teammates technically,” can seep into the mindset of a normally confident athlete. If not kept in check, this negative thinking can have a devastating impact on the athlete’s rehabilitation process and create a slow and uncertain return to sport. Solution: First, become aware of your
negative thoughts and then change them to positive, more effective thoughts. “I will work hard in rehab and make my way back to full strength to be ready to play for my team.” This approach will drastically improve the behavior of the athlete during the rehabilitation process and create a better outcome. ■ Emotional trauma: In a split second, athletes go from being confident, aggressive and self-determined as an athlete to suddenly becoming uncertain about themselves, the future of their sport, and they often lack direction about what to do next. Solution: Talk in detail with your doctor and physical therapists to create a detailed rehabilitation plan and steadily work your way back, one goal at a time. Research has shown that athletes who have a sense of control over their recovery process return to their sport faster and more successfully. ■ Social trauma: One of the most paralyzing and unexpected traumas of a severe physical injury is the social impact on an athlete. They often feel a deep absence from their team, which continues on training
and competing; friends, who can carry on at school and in their social lives without a care; and family, that has to continue to function, despite the laid-up athlete on the couch. Many athletes report feeling as if no one understands what they are going through. Solution: Find a group of athletes who have been through, or are going through, a similar injury. Talk, share stories, and encourage each other. Social support is KEY to an athlete staying motivated and positive through the adversity a severe injury can
bring. Talk to your physical therapist, sport psychology professional, school coach or club coach, to help you find a group. ✪ Erika Carlson is a sport psychology consultant for Excellence in Sports Performance. Her contribution appears in partnership with Sports Medicine For Young Athletes, a division of Children’s Hospital Oakland. Reach Erika at Erika @ErikaCarlsonSports.com. Or, If you have questions or comments regarding the “Health Watch” column, write the Sports Medicine For Young Athletes staff at Health@ SportStarsMag.com.
Health Watch Erika Carlson
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February 24, 2011