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A woman athlete returning back to sports after an injuiry

Returning to sport after a injury is not just a physical journey but also a psychological one. It’s crucial to acknowledge and address the mental aspects of recovery to ensure a successful return to athletic performance.

Psychological readiness to RTS (Return to Sport) is not commonly monitored in practice, despite specific instruments being available. Many practitioners feel underprepared to work within this area or might view evaluating psychological readiness to RTS as being outside their scope of their practice.

Psychological factors are important influences on returning to sport yet what it means to be psychologically ready to RTS is unclear. Rarely will an athlete be held back from RTS because he/she is not psychologically ready to return. Psychological factors correlate with injury occurrence; therefore, these factors should be offered greater weighting in RTS decision-making.

· Characteristics of an athlete who is psychologically ready to RTS are multifaceted include :

a. realistic expectations,

b. high levels of self-efficacy

c. low levels of anxiety.

· Psychological readiness to RTS is likely influenced by multiple social agents, personal and contextual factors :

e.g., coaches, sports medicine practitioners, personality traits, performance level.

· Consequently, RTS decisions should be made from an interdisciplinary perspective, with multidimensional monitoring of psychological factors (e.g., concurrently monitoring self-efficacy and re-injury anxiety levels).

Athletes returning from long-term injuries, like knee ligament reconstructions, often feel anxious about competing again. If they lack confidence in their recovery, they may shield the injured side, leading to poor technique and potential new injuries. This lack of confidence can also diminish performance and increase the risk of injury in contact sports by causing hesitation.

An athlete taking injuiry recovery sessions at PhysioQinesis Thane clinic

Important points to remember :

  1. Acknowledging Emotions 

Accepting and experiencing the emotions that come with injury is the first step. Seeking support from friends, family, coaches, and mental health professionals helps athletes process feelings and move forward.

2. Setting Realistic Goals 

Setting achievable goals is key for motivation during recovery. Focus on incremental progress and celebrate small victories to boost confidence and maintain momentum.

3. Building Confidence 

Rebuilding confidence is crucial. Athletes can use visualization techniques to rehearse successful performances and gradually face challenges to overcome fears and build resilience.

4. Re-establishing Trust

 Physical rehabilitation restores strength and provides proof of progress. A strong support network of coaches, teammates, and healthcare professionals helps athletes feel ready to return to competition.

5. Managing Pressure 

Managing pressure is essential for performance and well-being. Techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing, and positive self-talk help athletes stay focused and present.

6. Developing Resilience 

Athletes can build resilience by viewing challenges as growth opportunities. Embracing setbacks as learning experiences fosters perseverance.

7. Seeking Support 

Support from coaches, teammates, friends, family, and mental health professionals is vital. A strong support network provides encouragement, guidance, and motivation, helping athletes overcome challenges and reach their potential.

While physical recovery is undeniably crucial for athletes before returning to play, it is equally imperative to assess their psychological readiness. Neglecting psychological readiness may heighten the risk of re-injury or further harm. Employing self-reported outcome scores for psychological evaluation can serve as valuable supplementary screening tools in ensuring athlete’s safe and optimal return to play.

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