The Role Of Psychology In Injury Rehab

I’m reading ‘Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation’ by David Joyce and Daniel Lewindon. And I found chapter 3 interesting. This chapter is written by Tig Calvert and outlines the importance of the psychological state in injury prevention and rehabilitation. ⁣ There are many things that go into rehabbing injuries – S&C, nutrition, sleep, physio, doctors, recovery modalities, time etc. One that’s often overlooked is psychology. Often we focus purely on optimising the body with very minimal work done on our psychological state.⁣ ⁣ But we know that there is a flow between the mind and the body. The two communicate and release certain hormones, neurotransmitters and immune system cells in order to rehabilitate the injured area.⁣ ⁣ They’ve found that positive mental states can affect the immune systems response and repair of the tissue. While negative mental states can be detrimental and slow down the recovery time.⁣ ⁣ If you’ve ever been injured before, you’ll understand the cascade of emotions you go through; anger, regret, isolation, helplessness and disappointment. The stress and the cortisol that comes from these negative mental states can inhibit the body’s ability to repair.⁣ ⁣ Alternatively, practicing optimism and positive mental states can help the body repair faster. It does this through releasing feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. The latter being responsible for decreasing anxiety, reducing pain and creating a feeling of well-being. Tig explains – “The main role of oxytocin in the body is to effect growth and repair.” Oxytocin can be increased through massage, deep relaxation and strong social support systems.⁣ ⁣ Not only is a positive mental state useful in the rehab phase for an athlete - deep relaxation techniques can also make you more robust to injury. These techniques (we’ll outline tomorrow) help put your body in a state that conducive to healing. This state can prevent minor injuries from becoming more serious, or chronic.


If we understand that the optimum state of repair is a decrease in stress and cortisol, and a rise in serotonin and oxytocin, how can we go about achieving this?⁣ ⁣ #1 Avoid referring to the injury as the ‘bad’ side i.e. left shoulder dislocation – people commonly refer to the left shoulder as the ‘bad’ shoulder. Try and avoid this.⁣ ⁣ #2 Boost motivation by doing what you can: accompanying an injury we see a subsequent reduction in strenuous exercise that your body is accustomed to. This decreases serotonin and dopamine, resulting in low-mood and low-motivation. If your upper body is injured, train your lower body and vice versa or add in some conditioning. This will help you feel like you’re not falling too far behind. ⁣ ⁣ #3 Write up goals – both short and long-term. The long-term goal will be return-to-compete. But daily and weekly goals should be emphasised here to help you get ‘little-wins’. Small goals like adding a rep or increasing range of motion a few degrees can hugely impact your optimism.⁣ ⁣ #4 Practice kindness and gratitude: you can’t be negative while simultaneously expressing gratitude. And doing nice things for people such as opening doors and smiling has a positive effect on your mental state while injured.⁣ ⁣ #5 Get social support: strong social support can improve the release of oxytocin, which can affect growth and repair. Try and avoid social isolation and loneliness by getting around family, coaches, teammates and rehab staff and aim to be an active participant in team training.⁣ ⁣ #6 Develop a meditation or relaxation practice: meditation, yoga and breath work activate your parasympathetic system. This is our ‘rest and digest’ system and is responsible for growth and repair. Upregulating this system will speed up the recovery process.⁣

Returning to compete is not only about what goes on with your body – it’s also about your psychological state. Enhancing beliefs and mentality around the injury can impact how fast you recover and return. #one22

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