Have you ever had a sport injury? Have you ever struggled afterwards, not knowing whether you'd ever recover, whether you'd ever get back to your old strength? 

Being in pain and having to watch other athletes move on while you're stuck with your injury can be really frustrating. At the start, we normally tend to deny what has happened or that it could actually be really bad. We might keep on climbing - because it's just one last boulder in this competition and we think it would work nontheless (e.g. Shauna Coxsey, who still climbed the last boulder at the Boulder Worldcup in Munich, although her shoulder had hurt tremendously). Or we might believe that we would be fit again for the next competition or the one afterwards (e.g. Austrian skier Eva-Maria Brem, who just broke her lower leg in a ski training and who thought in a first reaction that she'd only miss out on one competition - the race in Levi, Finland. It turned out take it would take at least five months until she'll be on skiers again).

Doing sports at such a high level always brings the risk of injuries. Should this stop us from doing what we love doing? No. There is always ever a chance to come by an injury. If we focus on injuring ourselves, we are actually very likely to do exactly so (self-fulling prophecy). So instead, we should focus on what brings us further, how we can deal with this situation, how we can give our best. We shouldn't push this risk aside, but learn to accept it.

So what to do when we get injured? There are several stages we go through, despite the first denial and unrealistic assessment of how bad it could be. Maybe you have gone through these stages yourself?

In a second stage, we tend to be really upset and ask ourselves the question why (always) me? Why did this need to happen now? Being frustrated and upset is really normal, being able to accept it takes time, space and reflection. Eva-Maria Brem summed this up really well in her blog post. It's just human and we need to also allow ourselves to be frustrated at times. The next step of dealing with injuries can be forms of depression. Have you ever said things like you don't know how you will ever get back to your old strength? Or have you thought of quitting because you don't know how to deal with the situation?  

Last but not least, the last stage what we go through when being injured is acceptance. This is the ultimate stage which we should want to reach. This means, we learn to deal with our injury the best possible way and look for ways of how to improve the situation.

At this point, I want to mention that obviously not everyone goes through every stage the same way, some even quit a stage and are able to accept the situation right away. You might recognise yourself though going through these different levels.

How can we better deal with our injuries?

Mental training during the sport injury rehabilitation process can evidently improve psychological coping among competitive and hobby athletes. This means that the process of being able to accept the situation and better deal with it can be accelerated by purposeful sport psychological training.

  1. Guided imagery/ relaxation can improve psychological coping and reduced re-injury anxiety. 
  2. Goal setting does not directly correlate with the reduction of negative psychological consequences.
  3. Psychological techniques like micro-counselling skills, acceptance and commitment therapy, and written disclosure have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing negative psychological consequences, improving psychological coping, and reducing re-injury anxiety.
  4. Put your injury in perspective. Well, being injured is obviously frustrating, horrible, annoying etc. because doing this sport might be your job and you might miss a whole season - or even more. A broken leg stops Eva-Maria Brem e.g. for at least year, and Anna Veith is just about to come back from a one year break due to a serious knee injury. However, we can still focus on the positive aspects: we might have loving friends and family around us who support us, we can reset and redefine our goals and ourselves. We have to ask ourselves the questions: what happens when we injure ourselves? Will the world stop turning? What's the worst possible situation that can happen to us? What could be worse? What can we learn from this?  

Ok, I threw about several terms. So what is what?

In an acceptance and commitment therapy, cognitive-behavioural-based techniques are combined with mindfulness and acceptance strategies. The goal is to not to eliminate or avoid difficult feelings, but to learn what we can do to move forward and how to deal with a situation. When one door closes, another one opens. With this motto in mind, it's important to move towards a valued goal and behaviour. Through that we learn, to not overreact to inconvenient feelings and to not avoid situations where these feelings are evoked. We learn to better understand of what has happened and how to learn from it.

In a written disclosure, writing is used as a technique in a rehabilitation process. Just imagine - it can lead to a significant improvement in injury mobility! Such a written disclosure consists of different levels: Firstly, you chronologically write about the onset of your injury. Secondly, you explicitly name your emotions and describe the impact of the injury. Last but not least, write about how you cope with it in the future and psychological growth. I don't know in how far the new book of Austrian skier's Anna Veith (which is highly recommendable!) was based on a written disclosure. However, as said, writing is a good way of dealing with the situation.

Through the use of basic micro-counselling skills, injured athletes are provided emotional and listening support, which are empirically-supported key functions of the psychological counselling process. By using certain techniques of psychological conversation techniques, an empathic, accepting, and genuine environment is built which in turn enhances the psychological well-being during the rehabilitation process.

Guided imagery/ relaxation is another technique. Autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation are only two really popular relaxation techniques. Guided imagery can be a specific visualisation technique where you put your focus on the injured part of the body. 

To sum this up, mental training can help while you're injured. You're not alone. Don't give up and back down. There are several psychological strategies that can be applied. And don't hesitate to consult a psychologist if you need some help!

Leave a comment if you have ever had an injury which had thrown you off the track! How did you deal with it? What were your first reactions?