It’s the one thing no athlete wants to hear. That injury they just suffered through a short time ago is serious enough that they will miss upcoming events.
It could be any type of injury: a contusion, muscle strain, sprain or a torn ligament. Actions that the athlete could previously perform with ease are now difficult or next to impossible. The only way back to a full recovery is through rehabilitation.
An injury can be a traumatic experience for any athlete. Each has their own personality and will deal with an injury in their unique way; which won’t always be the best choice. Some ignore advice of trainers or even doctors who have had much more experience as athletes and/or coaches in dealing with injuries.
For those athletes who are open to accepting an injury and want to get better now will begin the long process of rehabilitation which so many may have already endured. So why is it so many athletes struggle through this experience? Why do athletes risk their health and play through their injuries instead of taking time off?
To me, dealing with an athletic injury is on a smaller scale to the process of losing a friend or experiencing a loss. That is because as athletes our training schedule, our competitions, our training group and our coaches shape our very existence. It is a significant and important part of our lives. When this is taken away without warning, many athletes have trouble coping and deny that there is anything wrong. The commitments to important competitions or goals that have been previously set are so powerful that they can cause an athlete to think they have to keep going and push through the injury. This, of course, only makes things worse.
There are usually five stages an individual will normally go through in a time of grief (“The 5 Stages of Grief” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1969) that can equally be applied to an injury:
1. Denial and isolation – the refusal to recognize the injury, and the difficulty of not, being able to talk about it. The athlete feels alone in their struggles.
2. Anger – the athlete feels a need to punish or get even with; to make others hurt as much as they do
3. Bargaining – “I will do anything to be able to go to N.Y… please let me run”
4. Depression – this is the “all is lost” stage when the feelings of loss and gain are confused and the world looks lonely and isolated. “I will miss the competition”; “I will never get back in shape”. There is nothing to look forward to.
5. Acceptance – this is the final stage where the athlete is facing the reality of the situation and willing to deal with it. They are now ready to move forward and make a plan to get better, sticking to that plan until their injury is healed.
It all depends on the individual as to how long they spend in each phase. An early injury is not going to have much effect on performance ten years down the road. There is plenty of time to recover and carry on and be a successful athlete.
The key is to understand what he or she will go through with an injury and to come to acceptance as quickly as possible. By being aware that athletes have feelings of denial, depression, anger, etc. helps considerably in the process. By dealing with emotions, using common sense and really wanting to heal an injury, even in the event of an upcoming major competition, the athlete will recover much quicker and be back in action doing what he or she loves and enjoys.
Written by: Chelsea Raymond