Sports Injuries Can Lead to Serious Psychological Trauma

Many different events can result in psychological trauma, but some are comparatively easy to overlook. Experiences such as domestic violence, child abuse, violent and/or sexual assault and combat service are the kinds of traumatic events that we typically associate with emotional trauma.

Other experiences that can lead to serious psychological distress are easier to discount, either because they are not life-threatening or because they appear to be more commonplace. Sporting injuries are one such experience—they are rarely life-threatening and few professional or even amateur athletes manage to avoid some form of injury over the course of their careers.

Sports Injuries Can Be Frightening, Life-Changing

Nevertheless, sport-related injuries can and do have serious consequences for the physical and mental health of the injured athletes. Such injuries can force serious lifestyle changes or even career changes. It can force people to abandon athletic goals and hopes of major achievements. And, though rarer, some injuries can result in permanent physical disability or even put an athlete’s life at risk.

Sports injuries can also be painful and frightening. While people may not associate injuries from sports with the kind of fear generated by something like a violent assault or a car accident, any form of serious injury is a traumatic event for the injured person. In addition to the physical pain of injury, there is often significant anxiety about the possibility of full recovery and the time it is likely to take.

Re-Injury Anxiety

These challenges can result in a variety of symptoms of psychological disturbance, including depression, low self-esteem, tension, anxiety, fear and anger. Sports participants who are not able to resume their sport or regain their proficiency may struggle to abandon their old identity.

In addition, participants who complete a full physical recovery but do not receive psychological care during their rehabilitation may have significant fear and anxiety surrounding the possibility of another injury. Athletes who do reinjure themselves may also face even greater emotional trauma the second time around.

Addressing psychological trauma following a serious sporting injury is crucial not only for a patient’s mental health, but also for the patient’s ability to complete his or her physical recovery.

Psychological Intervention Can Reduce Anxiety

A new study from the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Iowa evaluated the effectiveness of psychological interventions during rehabilitations from sports injuries. The Iowa researchers analyzed the results of several previous studies on psychological interventions.

They found that certain psychological intervention strategies employed by sports medicine professionals can greatly reduce negative psychological symptoms following a sports injury and can also reduce anxiety about possible re-injury.

However, these interventions can only help if the necessity for psychological care is recognized by either sports medicine professionals, patients or others. It is important that those both giving and receiving treatment recognize the importance of addressing psychological well-being in the wake of serious sporting injury.

Other Sources of Trauma Often Go Unrecognized

Sporting injuries are not the only potential causes of emotional trauma that often get overlooked. Other such events include invasive surgery (particularly in childhood), natural disasters, extremely disappointing or humiliating experiences, the death of a close relative or friend, diagnosis of serious illness and even the breakup of serious relationships (particularly sudden and unexpected breakups).

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