Injury on the field of play is usually from poor problem solving, a lack of ability to learn physical or mental skills to their full extent, the failure to attend to appropriate cues, lack of communication with teammates and coaches, or from pain. Simply said, there will always be mental components that come along with injury (Pargman, 1999). What is interesting is that now a days with all the science improvements and ability to understand our bodies on a very precise biomechanical level, the ways we try to prevent injury has been primarily through physical rehabilitation.
The injury process can be long and very tedious. Not only is the process physically grueling, it’s also mentally draining, exhausting, and frustrating. Like some athletes say when they are cleared to play: I just don’t feel 100% or like myself anymore…So ask yourself, Do you not feel 100% because you physically don’t feel prepared or because you aren’t mentally prepared to return to sport? Many athletes are cleared to play, their injured body part is healed and back to its physical strength, yet they are hesitant and may not feel like that same player they were before injury. It’s like they somehow aren’t able to do what they always used to do.
The mind is a critical component when it comes to returning from injury, and it is something that can easily be integrated into one’s rehabilitation. If athletes can begin to see his or her rehabilitation as a performance, prepare as they would during season, and work just as hard as they would for their sport, they will gain more confidence in themselves. That is, by the time they are cleared, they feel that they are prepared, in all aspects of sport. The mental side of rehabilitation is barely touched by sport professionals, maybe not because they don’t notice it’s present, but because they may not know how to integrate the most effective skills to help their clients cope and prepare. Every athlete is different, every injury is different, so how can one become as mentally prepared as they are physically? It gets to be a little bit of a touchy subject.
So just how beneficial is utilizing psychology during the injury process?
Well….utilizing mental skills throughout injury has the ability to improve one’s healing and muscular strength, pain tolerance, motivation, confidence in self and injured body part, and dedication throughout his or her rehabilitation. I wish there was a magical answer of how and how quickly that happens, but the only way to see benefits is to prepare both mentally and physically. No the mental training isn’t going to make the rehab process fun and exciting, but the integration of these skills will create a more successful, holistic, and tolerable process for athletes, sport professionals and those that interact with injured athletes on a regular basis.
So I think it’s time to not look at the mental and physical side of rehabilitation as separate. Both are just as critical for athletes or anyone returning to sport and every day activities. The more sport professionals and athletes understand the mind-body connection, the greater the ability to improve rehabilitation experiences and to return to sport and daily activities at one’s full potential.