Best of Luck: Recovering from Injury and Retiring at 29

The sports world was caught off guard recently when news broke that Indianapolis’ quarterback Andrew Luck was retiring effective immediately from professional football. What made the situation even more interesting was Indianapolis was in the middle of their third preseason game against Chicago when reports of Luck’s retirement surfaced. The 29-year-old signal caller addressed the media after the game citing his health and quality of life as the reasons for his decision to call it quits on his football career.

The Emotional Response to Injury

Luck has dealt with a multitude of injuries over his time as a professional football player, which included a shoulder sprain, lacerated kidney, abdominal tear, rib cartilage tear, concussion, shoulder labrum tear/surgery, calf strain and high ankle sprain. With injury comes rehabilitation, which can take a toll on someone both physically and mentally. Although rehab is often thought to encompass just the physical side of things – improving strength, range of motion, reducing pain and improving function – the psychological side of rehab oftentimes plays a bigger role than most people realize.

In fact, the emotional response as it relates to injury can yield a variety of feelings, including sadness, isolation, irritation, lack of motivation, anger, frustration, depression, appetite changes, sleep disturbance and disengagement. Sport can serve as the identity for some individuals and when sport is taken away from them, the impact on an athlete’s daily livelihood can be great. Not all individuals will respond the same, but for Andrew Luck the physical and emotional toll of repeated injury and rehab proved to be enough for him to move on from football and begin his post-football life.

“I feel quite exhausted and quite tired. I do know once I hit the point where I felt like I knew what I needed to do and I talked to Nicole and my folks and some close friends and had some very difficult conversations with Mr. Irsay, Frank and Chris, it did seem like, in a sense, a weight was lifted,” Luck said. “It’s been tiring. I feel tired, and not just in the physical sense.”

Providing Support through Injury

During his press conference, Luck noted how everyone’s personal journey is different.1 This is true in many aspects of life – including recovering from injury. While some athletes will become motivated by their injury, others will experience a host of feelings, from isolation to depression. This is why it is imperative for members of the healthcare team be able to identify patients who are going through a heightened emotional response to injury. By doing so they become a support network for the individual and can help provide additional resources as needed. Each rehabilitation program as well as emotional support should be catered and individualized for every patient – what works for one athlete may not work for the next. Keeping patients involved in goal setting during the rehab process can also help them take ownership of their recovery and keep the long-term objectives in mind.

While Luck may have had the support he needed, the physical and emotional aspects of recovering from multiple injuries had an influence on his decision to retire.

“This has been my personal journey in football. Everybody’s journey is different. Over the past week, I was thinking, ‘Am I going to have a bunch of resentment toward the game or spite coming into this building?’ And I don’t. All I feel is love for this game and love for my teammates,” Luck said. “I know my journey has had some ups and downs and it has taken a toll over the last four years and the mental and emotional toll that that takes as well. I didn’t imagine retiring until two weeks ago.”

Looking Toward the Future

Many will say that Andrew Luck retired “too soon” and others will discredit his “mental fatigue” and physical break down of his body. However, Luck is being incredibly proactive in the management of his physical injuries and his emotional response with his long-term future in mind. Luck stated that after four years of being in an “injury-pain cycle,” he needed to move forward with his life. He made a personal decision to retire and move on from the game – and that’s okay.

By Brandon Bowers, PT, DPT, Astym Cert. for Athletico

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