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5 Stages of Grief After a Sports Injury

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The increased attention placed on health and fitness in recent years has caused an upsurge of individuals taking up sports and gym memberships, and naturally, cases of related injury. Getting injured during training is frustrating, especially in the lead up to a competition or tournament. You’re forced to take a backseat for recovery while your teammates continue to the final stage without you, perhaps even bagging a few medals in the process. 

When you’re in the dark and deep moment of being injured, it’s hard to see a way out. But injuries always get better, usually with proper rest and the right amount of recovery time. Some are going to recover quickly, but others, unfortunately, will need quite a bit more. 

Any injured athlete will tell you they want to return to full form as soon as possible. Any athlete that has ever suffered an injury will admit that there were tough days in that road to recovery. So how you mentally deal with the situation and recovery is important as it plays a huge role in deciding how quickly and successfully you get back into full form. 

Injured athletes often go through the five stages of grief after the initial trauma, and not necessarily in a straight line. One can oscillate between the following stages during recovery.

1. Denial 

The athlete will often “test” their ability to train through the injury despite the pain before seeking professional help. Sometimes these inconsequential injuries do go away by themselves. The danger here is spending too much time in the denial stage, resulting in a full-blown injury that requires medical attention. Acknowledging the gravity of an injury can shorten its recovery period.

2. Anger

It is only natural to catch a ride on the blame train and be angry with yourself at this point. Researchers and mental health professionals acknowledge that anger is an essential part of grief. Allowing yourself to be angry will only help it to dissipate faster. Trying to suppress anger is an unhealthy practice; the repressed anger can manifest physically as muscle tension, pain, nausea, and digestive problems. Why not turn it into a learning point instead? That way, perhaps your risk for injury will be lower in the future. 

3. Bargaining

Here is the ticket to training during recovery. Relative rest allows you to train, albeit at a reduced capacity – usually with restrictions on aggravating movements or temporarily switching to a different sport – so that you at least avoid completely sitting on the bench. While you may not be able to do everything you could pre-injury, it does help your injury recover by improving your immune system, lowering your stress response psychologically and physiologically, and improving blood flow to the site of injury. Exercising during an injury also reduces loss of muscle mass and range of motion and can catalyse a quicker return to regular training. In other words, you get to maintain your fitness and sanity.

4. Depression

It’s going to feel like your body will never get better and that you will never be able to do the sports you love again. Many people do not know exactly how long the body takes to heal, often underestimating the time needed, and then lamenting in despair. Talking to someone that can help you understand what’s going on with your injury and how long it’s going to take to heal can be reassuring. Charting it on a calendar will be useful for keeping things in perspective; the visual representation of your progress will give you hope. Your body will heal in time!

5. Acceptance

More than just coming to terms with being injured, it is also about having faith that you will recover. That, if you stick to your recovery program, you will be able to get back to your favourite sport. Trust that although you may be unable to participate in this race, you are paving the way for future ones. And if you have somebody to help guide you there, it can be all the more reassuring.

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