How To Bounce Back From A Sports Injury

May 19, 2016

by Sarah Klein

Whether it’s an ankle sprain, an aching back, surgery or a broken bone, chances are if you’re physically active, you’ve also been sidelined by an injury.

While both injury and the recovery process can be painful physically and emotionally, the good news is in many cases you’ll be able to return to the routine you so dearly love. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that the majority of college athletes who suffer an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury return to play. But as anyone who has recovered from an ACL tear or other physical activity-related injury can attest, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Here are a few tips to make it as seamless a process as possible.

Get the (objective) facts.

After you feel a twinge in your knee during your intramural basketball game, your first instinct is probably to do a quick internet search for your symptoms and jump to the worst possible conclusion. But every body — and therefore every injury — is unique, and you should run those symptoms by a doctor, not a search engine. “I encourage individuals to gather facts about their injury from medical professionals,” says Jennifer E. Carter, Ph.D., director of sports psychology at the Ohio State University Sports Medicine Center. Immediately after the injury, ask questions like, “What’s the prognosis? What’s the typical course of recovery? What physical activities can I still do?” she says.

If the injury requires a rehabilitation program, that too should be objective, says Pat Davidson, Ph.D., a former exercise science professor and current director of training methodology at Peak Performance in New York City. Ideally, a physical therapist will put you through a “whole-body objective measurement system,” he says, for a more global perspective on your pain. He analogizes treating the site of the pain without understanding the rest of the body to making the bed:

If you’re putting on your bottom sheet, and the fourth corner doesn’t make it, would you say the problem is the fourth corner? Well, not necessarily. One of the other corners probably has too much fabric tucked in, and as a good detective, I would find out which corner is the site of the problem, normalize the problem, and the fourth corner [now] goes on perfectly. Many of us examining our own pain, we’re blaming the “fourth corner”.

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