Athlete’s Road to Recovery : Rehabilitation and Mental Health in Sport

What would a world without sport be like?

In the UK sport is engraved into our culture. Whether it’s the rugby or football, cricket, or tennis there is always crowds and crowds of people ready to support.

Premier League Soccer Crowds Pack Stadiums Like Never Before - Bloomberg
Sport is very prevalent in our society and has become integral for many reasons. Sports are good for both mental and physical health as well as teaching important skills such as leadership and teamwork. With sport comes many great things but also negative things such as injuries.

Injuries in sport are a common occurrence. They can occur within both training and matches. No matter what there will always be injuries in sport due to the competitive nature of the game. A lot of injuries are on the less severe side and are easier to recover from however, there can be injuries which can keep an athlete out for months or even for good. These injuries not only hurt someone physically but also mentally. Not only does the athlete have to go through long treatments and periods of rest which takes a lot of hard work and resilience, they also have to spend time away from the sport they have trained so hard for which psychologically is a huge setback. Mental injuries in sport are something that are not discussed as much as they should be. You can see how severe a physical injury is from the outside however when it comes to mental injuries no one else can get inside your head , therefore they are less easy to notice. Even though things have massively improved since a few decades ago , it doesn’t mean that things are the best they can be. There has been many cases in sport where athletes have come out and said that they have fallen out of love with sport they once adored due to the lack of support with their struggles and feeling helpless. With physical injuries it’s a lot easier to notice the signs.

There are physical injuries that can be caused through lack of training but also injuries that can be caused my unforeseen circumstances such as receiving a tackle in football. Either way, no matter what the reason is for the injury, an athlete is affected deeply by it and it’s important that not only does the athlete recover physically but also mentally. Injuries in sport can occur through simply over working or under working the body as well as the body being directly impacted by a force that is too strong for it to withstand. There are more common and less serious injuries such as cuts and bruises which can be treated through resting and keeping the wound clear and then there are more serious injuries such as broken bones and torn ligaments which can require surgery which can keep an athlete out for months. No matter what the injury the athletes will have to make sure they are focused on their recovery and rehabilitation before jumping back into their sports as this puts them at risk for injuring themselves again and possibly being in a worst situation as they were before.
Running Injuries: 8 Most Common Injuries, Symptoms, PreventionRecovery and rehabilitation after an injury can have a massive effect on an athletes mental health but so can gaining the injury in the first place. Anger and sadness often accompany an injury and can act as a mental barrier towards the progression to recovery. It is known that sports can be used as a healthy way to cope with stress. It gives athletes a focus and some thing for people to enjoy whether that’s just by taking part or the thrill of the competition. It can help people escape for a few hours to, to allow themselves to breathe and take part in something they love.

There is a general stereotype for athletes that they should just push through the injury and to continue the game which adds an additional pressure to the athlete because there is a fear that they are letting down the team or risk their chances of going back to how it was or even progress even further if they don’t continue however this in in fact a dangerous way of thinking for athletes because if they end up carrying on playing whilst injured it can cause further injuries and make the original injury more serious. This means they could face a longer time out which can increase the risk of their mental health depleting.

When faced with something that puts our future into doubt, a question that always comes into mind is what if? These questions can occur in athletes when injured. What if I will not be able to play again? What if this is my future over? It is important these thoughts are eased with the support surrounded them. Until the doctors and physiotherapists say for certain , it is imperative that the athletes don’t give up as there is a future there still worth saving. Aside from rehabilitation it also important that there is a support network for someone who has been injured. Going through a distressing time can lead to people having a negative outlook on life and can cause mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, it is important that even when they are at there worse, they have people who care for them around them . The support can vary from having someone off their team talking to them , keeping them in the loop so they don’t feel left out due to the injury and to inspire , challenge and motivate them, to a family member or friend for the comfort and more emotional means of support.

The Meaning of Family | LoveToKnowSo , as pointed out , an injury can really be a huge impact in someone’s life , not just for physical reasons but also for the fact that it takes a part of someone’s world and identity for a while and can lead them to feel lost, so its important that there is an awareness towards the important of rehabilitation not only for the physical side but also the mental side of an injury. Rehabilitation when it comes to injuries in sports is a programmed designed by physiotherapists to help athletes who have suffered an injury through treating their pain and helping them get to their most achievable performance that is available in their position.

There are injuries in which they are unfortunately too severe and risky to keep going on with their sport and results in athletes having to retire from there sports.
However there have been times where athletes have beat the odds and have created dream comebacks in their sports through their determination.
In football a case of true determination comes from Luke Shaw. Luke Shaw is a left back who plays for premier league side Manchester United. Shaw has been at the club since January 2014 and even picked up the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award , which is a prestigious award at Manchester United as the nominees are nominated by the fans ,at the end of the 2020//21. Over the last 8 years that Shaw has been at the club he has put in some fantastic performances and has showed some hard work and determination which could not have been clearer when he suffered an horrendous career threatening injury back in September 2015. On a Champions League night on the 15th of September 2015 , Manchester United took on PSV Eindhoven at the Phillip Stadion. It was there in which Luke Shaw suffered one of the most horrific injuries seen in recent years. It was revealed later that Shaw had suffered a double leg break. In an interview with The Guardian Shaw described how he wondered if he would return to playing football and even though he “didn’t properly think that” it did go through his head “ a couple of times at the start”. He went on in this interview to describe his long experience of rehabilitation. He described the negative thoughts that came with the process stating at points that he didn’t want to be there anymore and that he “could hardly walk for six months”. However, through his hard work and determination Shaw has managed to become one of Utd’s best players over the last few seasons.
Manchester United issue injury update on Luke Shaw - Manchester Evening News
Plymouth Marjon University is known for having a large number of students undertaking sports-based subjects and fellow student Tom Court has shared his experience with suffering from injury and his recovery to get back to doing what he loves. Court , 21 from Torpoint has been doing MMA for over a year and suffered from grade 2 hamstring tear which kept him from training for nearly 2 months and led him to miss his fight as he injured himself just over month before it. Talking about his initial reaction to finding out the news that he was going to be out for a while Court described his feelings and “angry and worried” as he didn’t initially know how long he was going to be out for and whether he would miss his fight. Speaking about his recovery process Court explained how he followed a “rehabilitation program” so he could build his progress up carefully. He also mentioned how he managed to start by “maintaining cardio on a stationary bike. In terms of how he felt mentally during the experience he explained that “ it was frustrating after rehab “ due to the fact that he “couldn’t go heavy on leg exercises” however he is still making progress to this day, and he is now focusing on “gradually increasing the intensity” in his workouts instead of “instantly training hard”.

Also from Marjon University is Daniel Marett. Marett,20 from Plymouth has been doing powerlifting and weightlifting for 4 years and sustained both a fracture to his left ankle during his first-year training and a hip abrasion problem during the transition between the second and third year. Marett explained that his ankle injury set him back “7 and a half weeks” but with his hip abrasion he still suffers with it today however at the time it was at its worse and it set him back “ 2 and a half months” before he could start training efficiently again. Marett explained how he fractured his ankle when he was submerged at Cadover Bridge , Plymouth in the river. At first, he thought he hadn’t done much more than scraped or lightly bruised it however when he pulled himself out the river and onto the bank, he took a few steps and started to immediately have “sharp stabbing pains” sent straight up through his ankle, calf and up his hamstring making him collapse. When it came to his hip abrasion, he felt his “hip dislodge itself during a heavy working set of deadlifts”. At the time of the injury, he stated that he did not recall feeling any anxiety or any mental hinderance other than “swearing a lot”. All that raced through his head was that something was wrong and that it needed to be fixed.

In terms of recovery for his ankle, Marett stated that it was a “simple fix”. He had to keep it elevated as much as possible to prevent scraping and was given a block to rest his calf against to keep his foot suspended. He did need a wheelchair for the first week until he “had mentally overcome the idea of walking so soon after the injury”. Once the swelling had gone down his lower leg had to be plaster casted. There was no need for any remodelling surgery in the end as his body had naturally repaired itself which Marett claimed as “some miracle”. For his hip he was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and creams and was informed to stay bed bound for a few weeks to test whether his femur had dented the acetabulum. He was given physical therapy once or twice a week dependent on the severity.

Mentally during his ankle recovery Marett stated that he was “not too phased” as he was more focused on his education at the time. However, he stated that his recovery for his hip was a lot more different to his ankle recovery and that this recovery sent him “into a downward spiral”. He stated furthermore that he ended up missing an event that he planned on attending. In terms of what has changed since these injuries Marett has exclaimed that he performs much more differently now. In terms of his ankle problem, he has worked on ankle mobility for the past 2 years and has claimed he can say that he has “fully overcome any issues that were posed” however its not so lucky for his hip problem as that “can possibly last a lifetime”. Due to this he has taken active and dynamic protocols in between all his compound sets and started to utilize some heavy accessory movements while training. He has doubts that he will fully recover with his hip however he has stated that he is “taking every step to negating the negative effects of the injury whenever possible and it has yet to be a problem again”.
Finally, from Marjon we have Aaron Elliot. Elliot ,19 from Paignton has been doing powerlifting for 5 and a half years and got diagnose with a twisted spine and nerve compression which took him out of training for 3 months. He pointed out that he “ didn’t know how bad it really was until it was too late “and ended up feeling “very upset as he thought he couldn’t compete , however he was reassured later on that he would be able compete again once he has healed. On his road to recovery, he focused on his stretching and doing low weight/ intensity workouts. When speaking about his toad to recovery he mentioned that he felt “weaker than ever” and that he had “very dark thoughts” but was trying to be as positive as possible. Due to covid and these injuries , he thought that there was no point in trying to compete again as he had a lot of work to make up but as of right now, he is considering restarting back up and trying again.

From these three interviews it is clear how much injuries can affect ones mindset . You can switch from feeling the most confident you’ve ever been to feeling like its time to give up , however these three lads have shown that no matter how bad it gets its ok to feel a bit defeated, but you need to give yourself a chance to rise and try again because you will never know what would become of it if you don’t give it a go. According to the NHS , one in four adults and one in ten children will experience some form of mental illness. If we think how many sports teams and individuals there are in the world and use that statistic, then that is a lot of athletes who are going through some form of mental health problem therefore why is it such a taboo subject within sports. There should be a lot more done so that these athletes feel more comfortable to come out and talk about the problems they are having and not feel ashamed of them. Statistics also available from Athletes for Hope revealed that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis.

There are however there are famous athletes out there who decided to speak out about their problems to try and help others feel comfortable in sharing their struggles.

The most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps, has spoken out vocally about his struggles with mental health. In 2014 he came out and admitted on the HBO documentary “The Weight of Gold” that suicide had been a part of his thoughts, and he later checked himself in to a rehabilitation centre . In a conversation with Society for Human Resource Management President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor Jr , Phelps admitted that as a male athlete he thought showing his mental health was “ a sign of weakness”. This is such an important quote coming from a male athlete as it shows truly at the heart of sport that there is still the stigma that ,especially if your male , if you shown sign of vulnerability, then you’re not strong and shouldn’t be doing high intensity sports . American Gymnast Simone Biles also set an example for millions of people out in Tokyo 2021 Olympics when she pulled out of the women’s gymnastic team final to “focus on her mental health”. When speaking about pulling out Biles stated that “ We’re are not just athletes, we’re people at the end of the day and sometimes you just have to take a step back”. Yes , if you’re an athlete, recovering or not recovering , if there is apart of you which is struggling then its okay to step back. Not even just athletes , if anyone feels like they are not in the right state of mind , its okay to step back and get the help you need.

Michael Phelps and Simone Biles' Height Difference |
People who are at a level where they can have a good influence over others and can act like a role model to others such as Michael Phelps , should be using their voice to help overturn this stereotype in sport that people who show signs of vulnerability are week. No one deserves to have to feel like they have to keep the emotions and struggles in just because there are people who can’t accept other people showing emotions. Emotions are good. Emotions are healthy and its really sad to see people bottling them away due to other people. People need them to be able to heal . Not only is important that that sportsman and celebrities use their voice to provide platforms. It is also the job of governing boards and higher ups to make policies clear that mental health targeting won’t be tolerated and that their place is indeed a safe place.

Recovery is Important.
Physical Health Is Important .
Mental Health is Important.
You are Important.
Its time to keep making change.




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