Coping with Injury

Injury and pain, whether acute or chronic, undoubtedly has negative effects on the body and the mind. Physically, the body’s structures are damaged.  Often times, you can visibly see this damage through diagnostic imaging such as X-ray, MRI, and ultrasound. Mentally, individuals who suffer from injury and pain might have increased stress, anxiety, and depression. Not as visible but equally as harmful to the body.

So, how do we combat the negative psychological effects of injury? Here are 5 tips that can get you on the path to physical and mental recovery.


1) Change Your Perspective:

I know this is easier said than done. However, by having a more positive mindset following an injury, you can increase your productivity and chance for a successful recovery. Let’s say you have chronic pain due to osteoarthritis, or that you have been told that you have a full ACL tear requiring surgery. There are a couple of ways to look at these situations. One is to have purely negative thoughts about it, such as this sucks; this pain is never going to go away; I can’t climb the stairs; I can’t play my sport; I’m going to gain weight; etc. These thoughts are often associated with negative emotions, which may restrict or inhibit positive action. There is no denying that the pain or injury is there, and that these thoughts might cross through your mind, If you are thinking about what actions you can take now, you are more likely to do them.  The bottom line is, while it is so important to be aware of your injury, it is even more important let go of the negative thoughts. Focus on what you can do to enhance your future.

2) Take Responsibility & Put It To Action:

This brings me to my second point. Now that you are focusing on what you can do to recover, take responsibility and put it to action. This often starts with seeking out health care professionals to help you in your recovery. Here is a list of individuals you might make an appointment with:

  • Family doctor
  • Orthopedic Specialist
  • Physiotherapist
  • Chiropractor
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Orthopedic Bracing
  • Dietician

Following your appointment, it is your responsibility to take their advice and be compliant with the treatment plan or suggestions. For example, if you are seeing a specialist who recommends taking a break from your sport, take a break – focus on the process of recovery, rather than the outcome. If you are seeing a physiotherapist who recommends certain exercises, do the exercises. Again, this is easier said than done, but setting goals for yourself can help.

3) Set SMARTER Goals:

It is difficult to work towards recovery if you do not know why or how you are going to get there. Set small goals, or process goals, that are relevant to the stage of your recovery process. For example, you might start with reducing pain, followed by regaining strength, followed by rejoining soccer practice. To be most successful at accomplishing your goals, make them SMARTER.

Specific: Be as specific as possible. It is not enough to just say I want to get better. Instead, try quantifying your goal – I want to walk 5km with zero pain; I want to have 120° flexion in my knee; I want to work 4 hours with no neck pain. By making your goal measurable, you giving yourself a target to aim for, making your goal more concrete and harder for the brain to ignore.

Meaningful: When your goal is meaningful, you will do whatever it takes to accomplish it. Ask yourself why it is important for you to accomplish this goal.

Action-Oriented: This involves developing a plan – how are you going to accomplish your goal? What are you going to do each day? What obstacles might arise and how are you going to overcome them?

Realistic: You want to set goals that you can reach. Otherwise, your mind starts to associate your goal with failure, at which point you give up. So, if you have never walked 5km, it is better to start with a goal that you can realistically reach, and then progress slowly.   

Time-bound: Set a deadline.

Evaluate: Consistently monitor your progress. This will help you stay on track as you aim to hit your deadlines.

Readjust: If you are off-target, readjust your goal. Reflect on what might have caused a delay or slowed your progress, and modify.


4) Be Mindful:

Be mindful of what in your life could be triggering your pain or causing a setback. This involves staying in the present moment and raising self-awareness. If you are aware that standing for one hour results in knee pain or eating a certain food causes your tennis elbow to flare up, you can do something about it.

Keeping a journal or voice recording of certain activities, meals, thoughts, etc. as well as pain levels is a simple way to improve your self-awareness. This way you can find common trends on days where the pain is worse and on days when the pain is better. Once you are more aware of what triggers your pain, you can begin to make changes to your daily behaviors.


5) Get 8 hours of sleep!

There are infinite benefits to getting a full eight hours of sleep. Physically, the body’s tissues and systems regenerate and heal during sleep. In terms of emotional well-being, a good night’s sleep can contribute to increased energy levels and a more positive mindset. Research shows that eight hours of sleep can help you remember more positive associations. That’s to say, sleeping for eight hours is more conducive to keeping a positive perspective and focusing on what you can do (tip 1) to aid your recovery.       


Meaghan Kadowaki
Certified Orthopedic Bracing Specialist
Arthritis & Injury Care Centre

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