Returning from Injury: 4 steps to make your return easier
By Kathryn Mellon – iNSPIRE Psychologist
We’ve all heard about or experienced significant injuries. A lot of people talk about the physical preparation that is required when returning from injury. The goals and plans you set for yourself over the season suddenly go out of the window and you are left with weeks or months of potential surgery, rehab and then building back up your cardio fitness and skill set. What about the mental side of things?
Loss of identity, fear of skills, self-doubt and confidence issues are just some of the factors that can affect athletes when trying to come back from injury. USA Olympic gold medallist swimmer Missy Franklin spoke about returning from a back injury in the lead up to Rio 2016 Olympics stating; “I had based my identity completely into the sport of swimming, when that stopped it’s, ‘Oh my gosh, what else do I have to offer?’ Like, I am nothing if not swimming.”
For many athletes the sport they play is a big part of their identity and when they lose it, albeit temporarily, they are unsure what to do or who they are. Injury may mean reduced training times; additional free time and it has the potential to take you away from strong support systems. Whilst physical rehabilitation is essential to return from injury, many underestimate the effects an injury can have on mental health as well.
There is no two ways about it, injury is tough but there are several things you can do to help yourself come back stronger and mentally ready to go.
Injury may have prevented you from the game of the season or the big competition you’ve been training for all year but that doesn’t mean all your goals have to go out of the window. Set goals for your recovery process, this can be as simple as completing rehabilitation exercises each day or increasing range of movement each week.
Give yourself something to aim for that you have some control over. Try to avoid setting goals in relation to a date you hope to be back out competing – this can place added pressure on you and cause further injury trying to come back too soon.
Keep turning up to training
Just because you’re injured and not be able to train properly doesn’t mean you can’t keep turning up to training. Yes, it will be hard seeing everyone working to prepare for the next competition but surrounding yourself in an environment you are used to can make those rehabilitation exercises seem a bit more bearable. It will also help you feel like you are still a part of the team. Use this time on the sidelines to improve things you previously took for granted. For example, sharpen up your tactical awareness, increase your playbook or provide a sideline perspective for teammates or training buddies.
Of course, when you first get injured you will be upset, angry and annoyed at the world. This is normal and you should allow yourself the opportunity to go through this. However, if you stay there too long you are missing out on valuable time you could be using to get back on track.
Keep the injury in perspective – what can you do to aid the healing process? This includes keeping the mind healthy, focused and positive. Believe in your body to come back as strong as you were before. In the scheme of your whole life or even your whole sporting career, this is likely just another obstacle to overcome.
Hobbies and other interests
Sport is great – it’s fun, exciting and gives you a sense of purpose. However, by no means should it be the ‘be all and end all’ of what you have going on in your life. If you’re finding you have a loss of identity when you get injured, it may be time to start looking at other areas of your life that you can get fulfillment out of. Spend time with friends you have outside of sport, read a book, find other passions you can immerse yourself in that you’ve previously neglected due to lack of time.
Surround yourself with a strong support system during this time to keep your mind focused and your body healthy. Injury is just another challenge preparing you to become stronger and more resilient then you were before.