The Psychological Effect of Injury and 6 Tips to Cope

You may be working really hard to reach your fitness goals, or are in the middle of competing for events, training hard in your sport, etc, when you’re sidelined by injury.

You go from working out daily, to not being able to exercise at all. And that can really become discouraging. What once was habit for you, is no longer able to be included in your daily regimen.

This can sometimes lead to feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, changes in appetite, isolation, disengagement, a lack of motivation, even problems sleeping and more.

The Psychological Effect of Injury

Olympic skier Picabo Street got in a bad skiing accident in March of 1998, which ended up breaking her left leg and blew out her right knee.

She stated: “I went through a huge depression, I went all the way to rock bottom. I never thought I would ever experience anything like that in my life. It was a combination of the atrophying of my legs, the new scars, and feeling like a caged animal.

I went from being a very physical person, a very powerful athlete, to barely having any strength to get from my room to the kitchen. You’re stuck and you can’t do what you normally do and it makes you crazy.”

And these feelings aren’t only familiar in professional athletes, but for many others as well.

One of my great friends, experienced a situation similar. You may remember her from Females of Fitness. Check out the post here.

Mercedes had injured herself badly, which resulted in multiple surgeries. She was forced to quit her job, which was a job that she LOVED by the way.

“Out of work and recovering from surgery I felt depressed and didn’t know what to do with myself. I went from 167 pounds of lean, healthy and strong muscle to a skinny, saggy mess. When I finally got the OK to start working out again I felt so frustrated over what I had lost. I went from bench pressing 100 pounds, to struggling to lift 5 pound dumbbells.”

We talk a lot about loving the process, and exercising a lot to reach your goals, but what we haven’t discussed as often is what you can do when exercise really isn’t an option for you.

In these examples they already LOVED the process, then they had to stop doing something that they loved. And that isn’t easy.

So what do you do when exercise is not an option? And how do you cope with these changes?

Tips for Coping With Injury

Injury doesn’t only take a toll on your physical body, it can take a huge toll on your emotions as well.

Let’s talk about some things that you can do when faced with injury.

1. Allow Yourself to Feel

Allowing yourself to feel is actually an important part of the healing process. After an injury you may go through a wide range of emotions. In fact you may go through parts of the grieving process. First comes denial, then bargaining, followed by depression, then anger, and lastly acceptance.

It is normal to have emotions. You don’t have to try to turn off your emotions. Know that grief is normal, but then you must accept the reality of your situation. You must acknowledge the problem so you can know the extent of your injury, then you can work on plans for recovery.

2. Set new Realistic Goals

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Okay, so maybe your goal was to be able to run 12 miles by the end of the month… but you experienced a knee injury that will sideline you for a few months. So your plan to run 12 miles in a few weeks probably won’t happen anymore. But you can set other goals for yourself.

Take this time as a chance to properly recover, get your strength back up, and even work on strengthening other parts of your body.

Set goals for recovery, for post-recovery, and even set non-exercise related goals. Like starting meal prepping, giving up fast food, finding ways to reduce stress, getting more sleep, drinking more water, etc.

Adrian Peterson is a great example of this. Adrian Peterson, a running back for The Minnesota Vikings, tore his ACL and his MCL. Instead of moping around during this time, he set goals to heal properly, strengthen his torn ligaments as well as the rest of his body, and worked to improve his performance. He saw this injury as an opportunity… not an obstacle. And it worked! He came back and rushed 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns.

3. Focus on Your Nutrition

Nutrition should always be important, but if you are trying to maintain, and prevent weight gain while sidelined by an injury, it is important that you keep your nutrition in check. A first thought may be to drop your calories low to make up for your lack of exercise. But this is actually a mistake. Dropping your calories too low would put you at the risk of losing muscle. The best thing to do would be to focus on maintaining when you can’t work out.

If you want an example of what I eat in a day for maintaining/building muscle, check out this blog post. I talk about macros, how to count macros for your goals, and even provide you an example of what I eat in a day when I am trying to maintain.

And download an app, like MyFitnessPal, where you can plug in all the foods you are eating to see the calorie and nutrition facts.

Do you want some meals laid out for you? With the calorie and macro content accounted for? Then try the IdealLean Protein Cookbook: 101 Recipes for Your Fit Goals. The only hard part will be finding out which recipe you want to make first.

Trainer Lindsey's 101 Protein Recipe Cookbook

4. Be Patient

You guys, patience is huge. And also one thing that I know I can struggle with at times. We usually want to see results right away, so getting set back in any way can be really hard. And I get that!

But one of the biggest mistakes that you can make during an injury is not allowing yourself to heal completely. Sometimes you may get so eager to work out that you exercise on your injury, and fight through the pain. The problem with this? This can actually make your condition worse.

You shouldn’t do more than you are capable of. Know your limits, listen to your doctor’s advice, actively take part in recovery and physical therapy, and never bite off more than you can chew.

5. Find Other Options

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Depending on your injury, you may be able to exercise a bit. Say you hurt your ankle, you can opt to do some upper body exercises: like dumbbell curls, stationary hand cycles, lat pulldowns, etc.

You can also find new classes, try new exercises or practices (yoga and pilates are awesome) modify workouts to you, and figure out what equipment you can use.

Disclaimer: This isn’t medical advice. If you are injured you should first consult with your doctor before exercising.

6. Seek Help if Necessary

Recovery can sometimes be a lonely process. You may be used to the community that athletics fosters; the support you get in the gym, on the field, and on the sidelines, and that may seem to go away once an injury happens.

In a study of 343 male college athletes found that 51 percent had some symptoms of depression after being injured, and 12 percent of those became moderately to severely depressed.

It is normal to feel depressed or sad after injury, so know that you are not alone.

Seek help, and focus on concrete, problem-focused behavioral programs to minimize uncertainty. This can be used as therapeutic guidelines for dealing with the emotional distress of injured athletes.

Let’s Put it to Rest

Allowing yourself to fully recover is so important to make sure that you heal properly. But we also know that injury goes past the physical part. A lot of it is emotions. Learning how to deal with your emotions and put a handle on the situation, as well as coming up with future goals, finding other options, and allowing yourself to rest.

Rest and recovery go hand in hand. Even when you are able to get back into working out you need to allow yourself to properly recover in between workouts. That’s why I rely on IdealLean BCAAs to help me recover faster so that I can get back into the gym sooner.

Lindsey Mathews

Lindsey Mathews

Head Trainer & Nutritionist

Lindsey Mathews is the Head Trainer and Nutritionist at IdealFit. She is a NSCA-CSCS certified personal trainer, C-ISSN certified sports nutritionist, Pn. 1 certified nutrition coach, and a nationally qualified NPC bikini competitor. Before joining IdealFit, she ran the largest boot camp program in Utah County.

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