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The Psychology of Injury

If you’ve been an athlete for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt had to deal with an injury somewhere along the way.  

Maybe you’ve been lucky and haven’t had much more than minor wear and tear.  Maybe you’ve been unlucky and have suffered something more serious.  Either way, coping with injury can be complex.  The physical repercussions are usually apparent, while the psychological ramifications are much less obvious but can sometimes be just as damaging.  

Just a few of the psychological effects of injury for athletes can include:

  • A Loss of Identity: For most athletes, their sport is a very large part of their life.  To suddenly not be able to participate in it fully represents a big blow to their identity.
  • Fear of Loss of Progress: For newer and more experienced athletes alike, this is very common.  You’ve made a lot of progress and now you’re worried about going back to where you started.
  • Fear of re-injury: Standing over the barbell for the first time since you hurt yourself can be terrifying.  “What if it happens again?”
  • Loss of Self-Confidence: Common especially among older athletes.  “Maybe I just can’t do this anymore?”
  • Self-esteem: Finally, loss of self-esteem can be a real concern for the injured athlete.  The more an athlete is wrapped up in their sport, the more likely their self-worth will diminish when their identity is challenged by injury.

Here are some tips for dealing with the psychological ramifications of physical injury:

  • Make sure you have social support at the gym/on your team.  Have friends/teammates who will check in with you while you deal with your injury.
  • Just like in the gym, set goals for yourself and your rehab.  Make sure they’re realistic. 
  • Think long-term.  Having to take a month or two off over the course of a years-long career is not as big of a deal as it seems in the moment.
  • It’s common to wonder if you got injured because you did something wrong.  Sometimes you can do everything right and still get bit by the injury bug.  Don’t blame yourself.
  • Remember we can almost always find something for you to do in the gym that won’t aggravate your injury.  Don’t worry about being a burden–that’s what we’re here for!
  • Most importantly, have a positive mental attitude.  Take a brief period of time to “mourn” your injury, but then shift your attitude to doing everything in your power to heal.  

Finally, three tips for avoiding injury to begin with:

  1. Remember the CrossFit charter: Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity.  Always focus on quality of movement first and foremost. 
  2. Listen to your body and “break before you break”: Take a rest day when needed. You’re much better off choosing to take a couple days off now than being forced to take two months off down the road.  
  3. Make sure you’re supporting your recovery with proper nutrition and sleep.  The importance of these two pieces of the puzzle absolutely cannot be overstated.

When recovering from injury, paying attention to the physical AND psychological damage.  Both need to heal so you can return to the gym 100%.

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