Psychological factors and injuries in sports

Written by Frosso Patsou

The most common notion when it comes to an injury is “bad luck”. People involved in sports have been blaming their “misfortune” or even a person who bears a grudge against them. However, injuries happen due to the circumstances surrounding certain psychological and training conditions.

Studies have stressed out that 50% of amateur athletes suffer from injuries which keep them away from their training program for over a week.

Psychological factors which might cause injuries

They can affect an athlete to such an extent that the level of injury can increase dramatically. In specific:

  • Personality
  • Stress / reaction to stress (increased muscle tension, restricted field of vision, increased possibility of distraction)
  • Lack of concentration
  • Low attention spans levels
  • Low stamina levels
  • Pessimism
  • Psychological burnout
  • Negative feelings (anger, exhaustion, bad mood, confusion)

All of the above can possibly cause an injury.

Researchers have concluded that athletes who go through stressful situations (matches, important training, bad performance etc) do not possess the appropriate abilities to deal with it and, thus, run the risk of getting injured as a sequence of changes is caused to their concentration and their muscular system. Personality and stress history probably influence the chances of an injury. In a recent research, 18% of stamina loss was caused due to psychological factors.

Moreover, new research findings prove that the perception of personal value and self-esteem tends to be lower when it comes to an injured athlete while self-confidence and self-efficiency during the abstinence period are decreased.

Pole Dancing and aerial sports do not differ in quantity but in quality regarding the degree of danger. However, the instructor has to pay extra attention to his students and the possibility of their getting hurt.

This can be accomplished through:

  • A good rapport with the athletes in order to build up trust.
  • Knowing what each athlete is going through
  • Noticing any changes in the athlete’s behaviour, being able to justify them and offering help if need be.
  • Psychology during an injury and how it affects recovery.

After an injury, the coaches and athletes’ main concern is imprinted on natural (new injury, techniques, good physical condition) as well as on social factors (alienation, replacement, salary decrease, comparison with other athletes and pressure for quick recovery)

Psychology after injury

An athlete must find psychological support apart from medical treatment in order to fully recover. Recovery from an injury depends on how severe it is, the athlete’s personality and willingness to recover and on how positive his surrounding environment is.

A psychologist who specialises in injury rehabilitation is equally important. He can help by:

  • Rebuilding his knowledge and changing mood or thoughts.
  • Handling stress
  • Determining goals afresh
  • Developing a positive feedback
  • Using techniques for positive inner dialogue, mental visualisation and relaxation.
  • Triggering motivation

Research has shown that the athletes who used methods such as determining goals, inner dialogue and mental visualisation, they demonstrated more perseverance during the rehabilitation process and their recovery was faster. In more detail, encouragement was an important tool for compliancy to the program of exercises which had to be done at home. Most recent studies have shown that psychological intervention can have a positive influence on recovery, the person’s mood and the successful treatment and restoration of self-confidence.

To conclude, it must be pointed out that even after an injury, the athlete can benefit from it by becoming more resistant, developing his personality, learning how to cope with stressful situations and by increasing his potential, effectiveness and motivational skills.

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Rotella, R. J., & Heyman, S. R. (1986). Stress, injury, and the psychological rehabilitation of athletes. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology (pp. 343-364). Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield.
Smith, A. M., Stuart, M. J., Wiese-Bjornstahl, D. M., Milliner, E. K., O'Fallon, W. M., & Crowson, C. S. (1993). Competitive athletes: Preinjury and postinjury mood state and self-esteem. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 68. 
Taylor, J., & Taylor, S. (1997). Psychological approaches to sports injury rehabilitation. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen. 
Wiese-Bjornstal, D. M., Smith, A. M., Shaffer, S. M., & Morrey, M. A. (1998). An integrated model of the response to sport injury: Psychological and sociological dynamics. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 10, 46–69.
Williams, J.M., & Andersen,M. B. (1998). Psychosocial antecedents of sport injury: review and critique of the stress injury model. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 10, 5–25. 


About the author

Frosso Patsou

Sports Psychologist

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