The Fear of Re-Injury Stopping Return to Activity and Perforamance

A topic that often doesn’t get discussed very often is the psychological aspects of returning from and injury. Whether it be returning to sport or just everyday activities and work depending on the level, type or location of injury many people will struggle to return to normality issue free. I don’t just mean people struggling with debilitating issues mentally regarding their return to health but many people will have times where the struggle mentally in recovery.

Injuries are something that can suddenly shake our attitudes and confidence which in itself is an unsettling feeling for most. We all very much feel that we can just bounce back and if you can all the better. Sadly at times the road to recovery is slow and an uphill struggle. The grind to return is at times monotonous and frustrating especially severely acute or long term chronic issues. I think many people do not give themselves enough credit for the efforts they put in their attempts to recover. We often see athletes and the injuries they go through and we belittle the issues we have ourselves. Its true athletes normally receive far worse types and degrees of injuries but many athletes will have several major injuries and returns to play in their career while having a well developed support system that to them, unless very serious, its just another speed bump in their business.

Yet the fear and difficulty of injury can be intense for even those in the general public. Injuries makes us feel fragile physically and mentally where we fear hurting ourselves or re-injuring the affected area again which makes us overly cautious and, in a vicious cycle, makes us more likely to hurt ourselves.  We become nervous of the movements or actions we do that caused the injury so we limit the movement or stop that activity all together. This means our tissues become accustomed to this reduced level of activity meaning in return it takes far less force to injure ourselves. This dents our mental fortitude further and is the cause for many to give up on many new sports or activities. This fear is not something only attributed to the general public, various studies have shown that athletes at a high level express greater levels of fear even after one injury when returning to sport , with certain studies even showing that fear, due to the possibility of injury, can cause stress hormones to be released, reducing the quality of tissue; e.g. https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/pdf/10.1123/jsr.2017-0075

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278995/

Speaking from experience of returning from injury to sport, the fear of pain can be worse than experiencing the pain itself. Pain does not always means we are at risk of injury. It is the ability to educate ourselves and overcome this fear logically to allow us to return to ourselves that we all need to become far more accustomed to. Fear is natural, but overcoming that fear and not letting it control the way in which our very bodies act is one of the most important things after an injury.

This is just a very simple video showing that injuries happen and the mental aspect of returning from injury is far more important than we all think.

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