Staying Motivated During Rehabilitation

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Try to view your injury as another athletic challenge and an opportunity for personal learning and growth. Identify the skills that help you succeed as an athlete.

By Helen Iams, MD, MS
Member AMSSM

 

 

Injuries are part of sport. Any athlete who competes seriously can expect to get an injury as some point. Dealing with an injury, and possibly the surgery required to fix it, can be devastating. It is very difficult to watch others continue training while you feel that you are losing ground. This can make it hard to stay motivated during your rehabilitation, since the therapy itself can be boring and disheartening. How you perceive the injury is the key to a successful and short recovery.


Try to view your injury as another athletic challenge and an opportunity for personal learning and growth. Identify the skills that help you succeed as an athlete, such as personal responsibility, orientation towards achieving goals, training with intensity and precision, and willingness to take your mental and physical skills to a higher level. You can use the same skills in your recovery. This perspective will help you stay motivated to work hard during your rehabilitation.

Normal responses to injury
When athletes have injuries, they can become very upset, getting depressed or angry. They may be tempted to give into anxiety and hopelessness. They might even have trouble seeing themselves as worthwhile. These attitudes are normal but can make it difficult to work hard on the healing process. The trick is to try to focus on the positives. This may sound artificial but it really makes a difference in your rehabilitation. The attitudes and views you have about your injury will determine how you view your rehabilitation and how well you do with it.

Finding the positives
Believe it or not, you can come out of an injury a smarter and better athlete. Finding the positive implications of injury is not a false optimism or lying to yourself. A positive approach will significantly improve your ability to cope with injury. An injury, and the down time involved in recovery, can be a time of personal growth. It gives you time to clarify your priorities. You can develop psychological skills that you can use later in competition. The discipline involved in maintaining a physical therapy regimen improves your mental toughness. You can use the time to study more about your sport and improve your technical skills.

Education
Educate yourself about your injury and the rehabilitation process. Learn as much as you can from the internet and your therapist. The more you understand the treatment, the more you will believe in it and its ability to help you. This will allow you to provide useful information for your therapist. It will alsohelp you to be an active participant in your therapy and let you become involved in the decision making process. People who are more involved in the therapy process work harder and have better results.


Make sure you thoroughly understand your rehabilitation plan. Know exactly what is being done and why. Often, athletes cannot accurately describe the home program they are to do. Have your therapist give you the plan in writing. This will help you get the most out of your rehabilitation efforts.

Get support
You need to surround yourself with people who will support you through this process. Seek out your friends that can listen well. Try to maintain normal contacts as much as possible. Don’t cut yourself off from your training partners. Find someone who has recovered from a similar injury. They can be an invaluable source of inspiration to you to continue your therapy. Just knowing someone else got back to competition can ease the fears you may have.

Learn sports psychology
There are specific sports psychology techniques that can enhance your recovery: goal setting, positive self-talk, and imagery. These same skills are often used in training. Athletes using these techniques during rehabilitation experience a number of benefits, including faster healing, earlier gains in strength, greater increases in function, and a reduction in pain and anxiety.

Goal setting
Setting specific goals helps you focus your energy and allows you to measure your progress. You should set both daily and long-term goals. The daily goals need to be small but realistic, concrete goals. Your physical therapist can be a great help in deciding what goals would be appropriate. To set long term goals, you will need to know when you can be ready to return to training. Your doctor and therapist can help you with these goals.

Positive self talk
Monitor your internal dialog and what you say to yourself. Are you assuming that this injury will end your season? Your career? Are you being overly harsh on yourself? These thoughts can undermine your progress. Stop negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. Educating yourself about your injury helps you maintain a positive focus. You can then know what to realistically expect.

Imagery
Your imagination can be a great asset during your healing process. However, you may not be using it to its best advantage initially. You may be imagining the worst that can happen. This will undermine your faith in the rehabilitation process. Re-focus your images on positive outcomes. Visualize returning to competition and performing well. Think about how good it will feel when you do return to competition. Imagine any obstacles and how you might deal with them ahead of time. These images will help motivate you to maintain your therapy program.

Healing imagery is another way your can use your imagination to heal yourself. Imagine your tissues getting healthier. Picture the tissues actually growing together. Imagine the area is bathed in white or yellow light. These types of images have been found to actually speed the healing process. The more you have educated yourself about your injury, the more precisely you will be able to picture the healing.

Summary and references
You can find ways to motivate yourself to stay with your physical therapy program. The more you invest yourself in the process, the better your outcome will be. You can use the two books below to learn more about injuries in athletes and the sports psychology techniques that can help during rehabilitation.

The Mental Game Plan by Stephen Bull, John Albinson and Christopher Shambrook (a perfect book for the weekend warrior)

Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology by Robert Weinberg and Daniel Gould (a more technical and in-depth description of sports psychology)

Helen Iams, MD, MS
University of Wyoming Family Medicine Residency
Cheyenne, WY
 

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date: November 27, 2005

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

FIND A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR

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