Are we our own worst enemy? The role of mental health in injury management

Take a minute to reflect on this question:

How do you feel when you are injured? 

Can you pinpoint the emotions you felt after spraining an ankle in a scratch match? Was there a clear outburst of frustration or a cloud of anger or sadness lingering deep within your stomach? Hearing the words, “no exercise for 2 weeks,” or “sit out of that game for now” is completely and utterly shattering for the majority of the population, and often is not even a possibility in the minds of many. So why is it that in our society we are so determined to go against the advice of multiple health care practitioners. Is it that we don’t believe what they are saying to us, or are we in denial of our injuries and the steps we need to take to get better? 

It is very common to experience emotions of anger and sadness when tackling an injury. We have certain demands we need to meet; a stressful job, ensuring deadlines are met, sporting finals coming up or maybe that hiking trip booked 5 months ago that will have to be cancelled. It can become almost impossible to schedule in time to focus on the rehabilitation needed to get your body healthy and functioning. So how do we change the way society perceives injuries? 

One way is to change how you cope with an injury. Below are 5 steps for coping with the psychological effects of injuries:

1. Accept the reality

Injuries can happen to everyone. Elite sportspeople, your average weekend warrior, children, adults the list goes on. No one is immune to injury. It is not a matter of being ‘weak’ or ‘sucking it up.’ 2

2. Treat recovery like training 

When recovering from an injury often the worst thing to do is nothing at all. It is common for someone to sustain an injury due to lack of mobility or strength. In this instance, exercises targeting improving these areas need to be performed and can then be incorporated into long term training behaviours. 

3. Use mental training skills

Positive self-talk and an encouraging environment are great tools to help motivate your recovery process. Reaching out for professional help is also advised if your injury is negatively impacting your day to day lifestyle.

4. Report pain and discomfort. 

Recovery programs are not a one size fits all. It is important to communicate this with your primary therapist if you are not responding to treatment or if treatment does not work for you.

5. Embrace the time off

Time off certain activities is a great way to catch up on things you have been meaning to do. Try not to fixate on what has caused your time to free up but embrace having some time off. It is also an opportunity to reset and refresh to come back stronger and more mentally prepared.

So the next time you sustain an injury, ask yourself “how do I feel?” it may be the most important factor in returning to the activity you love.

By Rachel O'Loughlin - podiatrist at Melbourne Podiatry Clinic