Tips for Recovering Mentally After a Sports Injury

No athlete, regardless of gender, age, and competition level, is immune to injuries. And in America, over 8.6 million recreation and sports-related injuries  are reported yearly.

Athletes depend on their resilient and robust bodies to participate in the rink, court, and field and when an injury stops your ability to participate, it affects your social and emotional well-being. It can also erode self-identity and esteem.  

Unfortunately, in sports, injuries are very common. 

Rehabilitative and surgical technology enables the physical level of injuries like tears, sprains, or broken bones to be dealt with but we often do not consider mental injuries and leave them unattended.  

The mental distress from sports injuries occurs due to isolation, sadness, anger, irritability, frustration, pain, and fear of re-injury. 

This will hamper an athlete from performing at their best even after recovering physically.

Importance of mental recovery after a sport injury

In sports, mental strength is as important as physical fitness to achieve success.

Mental toughness enables the athlete to consistently perform and execute the upper range of their skills and talents regardless of circumstances .

After a sports injury, you must actively work with a positive, realistic, and optimistic outlook. 

For example, you can tell yourself “recovery was tough, but I will come back more robust and have the power to succeed” as opposed to “recovery was tough, I will never play again”.

Here some tips for recovering mentally after a sports injury.

Embrace positivity

It’s hard to stay motivated and positive during an injury. This is because the brain mechanism is hard-wired to focus on immediate threats or pessimism rather than being optimistic.

While pessimism attributes your injuries as personal deficits, optimism  treats them as learning experiences. 

How can you train your brain to become more positive?

  • Separate truths from fiction

Start by focusing on the positivity of your injury experience than the negative self-talk. Jot down the frequent negative thoughts patterns, like ‘worst’, ‘always’, or ‘never’ and evaluate them to see if they sound like facts or fiction.  

  • Identify positive thoughts

Now that your brain has snapped from self-defeating thoughts, train it to adapt to positive ones. Although this comes naturally after practicing for some time, you start by guiding your wandering brain by consciously choosing positive thoughts. For example, “I am healed” “I will win again”.

Positivity captures attributes like hope, optimism, resilience, and efficiency.

Set achievable and realistic goals

Athletes are natural goal setters. They use devices to track data and monitor their progress, which they tend to do even after an injury. 

However, when recovering from an injury, don’t work with your previous goals as your circumstances are now different. Embrace measurable, attainable, and relevant goals. 

Pushing through your injury will only lead to disappointment, depression, and other associated risks, like re-injury.

Embrace power of visualization

Brain, Mind, Psychology, Idea, Hearts, Love, Drawing

After an injury, your dream comes to a halt. Embracing visualization enables you to remain focused on your goals, as you heal. 

Practice visualization when relaxed, maybe after prayer, meditation, or waking up. For example, for a sprinter with a broken ankle, visualize getting healed and sprinting across the field with your healthy legs.

Daily practising of visualizing helps you to:

  • Activate your mind’s subconscious that generates creative ideas helping you achieve your desired goals;
  • Program the brain to recognize and readily perceive various resources that lead to your success;
  • Trigger the law of attraction, thus drawing different resources and people to help with your recovery and career;
  • Build your inner motivation, guiding you to taking the necessary actions after an injury. 

Keep a journal

Journaling your injury recovery journey helps you to review past experiences with meticulousness and sincerity. 

It helps you to identify the patterns that aid in fast healing, boost their motivation, and increase confidence. It conversely, helps you to identify the patterns that slow you down.

Besides, jotting down your worries, pains, aches, and achievement provides a venting platform without fear and prejudice.  

Center your mind on the present

Athletes, in particular, want to get better now and get back sporting immediately. The truth is, sports injuries require ample patience and time to heal completely.

Focusing on the present happenings instead of future competitions or past glories is advisable. No matter the urgency, healing won’t happen tomorrow. It takes time. 

How can we center on the present? By focusing on the things we can do now. 

For example, you can take this time to do things you have wanted to do but with your heavy training and competing schedule, never had the time. Learn a new skill, volunteer with upcoming athletes and coach local kids teams. Anything that keeps you positive and focused is great.

Accept support/help

Avoid isolating yourself, and don’t feel ashamed to seek moral support from team members, coaches, and loved ones. 

Stick to your regular social routines like socializing with your friends as long as the activity does not aggravate your injury.  

Take control

The most frustrating thing about a sports injury is the loss of control.  

While it’s hard to control the pain or torn ligament or broken bones yourself, it’s advisable to make conscious choices. Avoid pushing your body hard for faster recovery, instead, change your perspective and embrace rest. Resting leads to faster healing.

Taking control also prevents incomplete and slow recovery. Avoid skipping rehab sessions or shortening them regardless of their tiring, boring, and monotonous nature. Eat healthily, meditate, pray, laugh, and accept your condition.

Owning and accepting your current situation gives you back the control over your mind and body.

Honor your feelings

Sports are their life for an athlete, and having an injury naturally leads to disappointment and other uncomfortable feelings. 

You will be missing your friends, teammates, and that feeling of accomplishment after winning. 

You may experience feelings like bargaining, denial, depression, hopelessness, and even, anger. Accepting and honoring these feelings allows you to process and overcome them.

Learn about your injury

Do not leave the details of the injury to your doctors. 

Conduct independent research, talk to doctors/therapists, read books and ask fellow athletes to equip yourself with as much knowledge as you can. 

Research enables you to understand the recovery process, treatment options, warning signs, and the aftermath.

That knowledge you gather will help in setting realistic and achievable goals, manage your expectations and be in control.    

Bottom line

Every athlete sustains a sports injury in the course of their career. Having realistic plans helps you to deal with the mental, physical, and financial setbacks. Our tips above will help you stay on track mentally as you tackle the physical aspects of recovery.


About author

Darren Tobin is a lawyer at Tobin Injury Law, serving Atlanta in Serious Injury and Death, Automobile Accidents and Personal Injury cases. He has been recognized as a top personal injury lawyer by both his peers and by industry publications. When Darren is not working, he enjoys running, volunteering in the Jewish community, and most importantly, laughing with his wife and two sons.