The Psychological Side Effects of Sports Injuries

Adriana James-Rodil, Contributing Writer, Tampa FL

One wrong step or hit, and the life of a teen athlete turns upside down. A study titled “Sport injuries in adolescents” examines 4,468 injuries in adolescents (ages 10 to 19) — 66.97% of which were male and 32.88% of which werefemale. It found that the majority of injuries were located in the lower extremity, mostly the knee and ankle.

As someone who has played sports since the age of three, I was unaware of the commonality of severe knee injuries among teen athletes, especially females — until it happened to me. I was confused by the term Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) when I first heard it from my doctor, but felt despair when I learned I had to undergo surgery and months of physical therapy.

According to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, ankle sprains, knee pain, Osgood-Schlatter, Little Leaguer’s Elbow, and ACL tears are among the most common sports injuries among adolescents. Physical activity is extremely important in maintaining health, but the injuries that could be sustained from it should be made aware to student-athletes from a young age. And what many also fail to realize is the consequences may not only be physical, but also psychological.

Psychological Issues Related to Injury in Athletes and the Team Physician” states that, for many, sports serve as a space for students to relieve stress. When that is deprived from one for months on end, they may respond with “sadness, feelings of isolation, irritation, lack of motivation, frustration, anger, alterations in appetite, sleep disturbance, and feeling disengaged.” Unfortunately, these initial symptoms can worsen overtime and impact rehabilitation if not treated.

Having torn my ACL in both legs over the course of high school, these “side effects” sound all too familiar, especially “loss of identity, fear and anxiety, and a loss of confidence,” which are the most common.

Psychological side effects from injuries are often overlooked, or even neglected, by physicians. Although an athlete may be capable of returning physically, it is an equally as important question to pose to him or her if they are capable mentally because anxiety, depression, and fear all increase the likelihood of re-injury and negatively impact performance.

For those who are currently struggling mentally while recovering from an injury, seek help from a licensed mental health provider. What to others appears to be a healthy adolescent who is ready to return to sport may very well be someone who is drowning in the fear of re-injury, anxiousness, and insecurity. These feelings can become nonexistent if only a physician asks him or her, “Beyond physical ailments, how are you doing?