Sports Psychology and Injury: Athlete Mental Health Impact

Sports Psychology and Injury: Athlete Mental Health Impact

Let's talk athlete mental health: sport psychology and injury

Do you love sports?

We all know that sports are more than physical activities. 

They’re a way to connect with others, to compete, and to feel a sense of accomplishment. 

But what happens when injuries get in the way of our ability to take part in the sports we love?

Welcome to the latest article for our mental health in sports project: dealing with injuries.

You don’t have to give up on your favorite sport because of an injury.

We are curating resources you can use to maintain or improve your mental health as you recover.


For elite athletes, one of the most difficult parts of coping emotionally with injury: not being on the field with their athletic peers.

Thousands of athletes suffer from sports related injuries each year. Injured athletes can develop mental health issues as a result.

This can lead to long-term mental health issues if not treated.

At Collage and Wood, we want to help athletes get the treatment they need for their mental health challenges. 

We also advocate for injured athletes.

Our goal is to create awareness for mental health challenges that arise after injury. 

The psychological impact of a sports injury can be long-lasting and far-reaching. 

The emotional and cognitive symptoms of injuries is like grieving a loss.

Kubler Ross calls this the grief-cycle.

This cycle's initial application was to death, but it can apply to anyone experiencing a loss.

The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle identifies normal emotional reactions related to loss:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance.

Read more about the Kubler-Ross grief cycle in this article in our athlete mental health series.

It’s important to get help if you or someone you know is struggling with the mental fallout of a sports injury. 

 Talk to someone if you’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious.

 You don’t have to go through this alone.


First, you'll have downtime after an injury, then rehabilitation. Recovery is ahead!

First, accept that you're going to have some down time. 

It's normal to feel frustrated and even angry when you're injured. Try to be patient with your body and understand that your body needs time to heal.

Second, take advantage of the opportunity to rest and recover. 

This is a chance to focus on other aspects of your life, such as your relationships or your academics. 

It can also be a good time to reflect on your career and set new goals for when you return to competition.

Third, stay positive. 

It's easy to dwell on the negative when you're injured, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your situation. 

For example, you might be able to use this time to improve your nutrition.

Research new training techniques that will make you a better athlete in the long run.

Fourth, seek professional help if you're struggling to cope. 

Talk to a counselor or therapist if you can't shake the negative emotions.

He or she can provide you with extra support and guidance as you work through this difficult time.

Injuries are never fun, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world, either. Trust me. I've been there and there is so much I wish I had done differently!

By keeping these things in mind, you can start to manage the negative psychological impact of your injury.  

In time, you will move on from the experience with positive takeaways.


HOW TO KEEP INJURED ATHLETES INVOLVED ALT Text:  Do you feel like your world turned upside down since you suffered a sports injury?  You're not alone. Tens of millions of people each year suffer injuries that can impact their mental health.   It's normal to feel scared, anxious, and depressed after an injury.   To battle this, it’s important to keep injured athletes involved in the team. even if they can’t take part in physical activities. There are many ways to do this, such as:  Asking them to help coach or mentor other athletes  Including them in team meetings and planning sessions  Allowing them to travel with the team to events  Giving them responsibilities related to their injury.   Injured athletes often feel left out and isolated when they can’t take part in team activities.   By including them and giving them responsibility, you give them value and purpose.


Do you feel like your world turned upside down since you suffered a sports injury?

You're not alone. Tens of millions of people each year suffer injuries that can impact their mental health. 

It's normal to feel scared, anxious, and depressed after an injury. 

To battle this, it’s important to keep injured athletes involved in the team. even if they can’t take part in physical activities. There are many ways to do this, such as:

  • Including them in team meetings and planning sessions.
  • Allowing them to travel with the team to events.
  • Giving them responsibilities related to their injury. 

Injured athletes often feel left out and isolated when they can’t compete. They may feel unsure of how to take part in team activities. 

By including them and giving them responsibility, you reassure your injured players of their value and purpose.


Fear is often the motivation leading athletes back to the field. The fears also lead back to the question: will I still be the same athlete?Getting injured is one of the biggest fears athletes have. 

When an injury occurs, it can be a very confusing and frustrating time.

An injury can happen to professional athletes or an amateur ones. Regardless, the internal questions are still the same: 

  • Is this a serious injury? Will I recover?
  • Where should I seek treatment?
  • How long will it take to get better?
  • What if I never return to their previous level of performance?
  • Will I lose my spot on the team?

These valid concerns can cause a great deal of anxiety and mental health challenges.

It’s important to remember that every injury is different. The recovery process will vary from person to person.

Additionally, access to resources will play an important role.

For instance, if an athlete suffers a knee injury, will he have to qualified athletic trainers? 

  • Will he or she have access to team physicians?
  • A sports medicine professional?
  • A sports psychologist?
  • Will college athletes have access to University Health Services?

Often, professional athletes will access a team of mental health professionals.

Professionals whose job it is to watch the psychological responses of the athlete. 

This is in addition to the physical health services that the team or league may provide.

Younger athletes may not have access to the same resources.

The best thing you can do is stay positive and focus on the rehab process. 

Many medical advances have improved the recovery of physical injuries. 

The expectation is that athletes will recover faster than ever.

With time, patience, and hard work, most athletes will return to their previous level of activity and skill of play.


Parents are an essential part of the athlete's medical team. They know their child better than anyone else and can gauge any negative changes in their student athletes response.

Any time your child gets hurt, it’s normal to feel worried and helpless.  

But it’s also important to stay positive and supportive. 

Here are some tips for parents of injured athletes:

  • Encourage them to rest and heal.
Athletes may feel like they’re not doing enough to recover. 
They may fear they’ll never be able to return to competing at a high level.
These thoughts and fears may cause them to rush through their rehabilitation.
  • Encourage them to take their time.
It’s important to remember that every injury is different and recovery times vary.
Some injuries may take days or weeks to heal, while others may take months or even years.
Milestones are good, but rushing is not.
  • The most important thing you can do is focus on your rehabilitation and follow your doctor’s advice.
  • Remind your athlete that they can still be a part of the team.
Help your athlete stay involved (e.g., team meetings, spending time with teammates).
  • Don’t put pressure on them to return to activity before they’re ready.
  • Watch their behavior for signs of post injury depression.

 It can be difficult to see your child go through an injury, but it’s important to stay positive and supportive. 

 By following these tips, you can help your child recover from their injury. Your family can emerge mentally stronger than ever before!


The psychological effects of injuries can be the start of other challenges as well: like the rising costs of healthcare.

The physical pain and discomfort of an injury can lead to mental health issues. These include anxiety, depression, and even PTSD. 

The mental anguish of an injury can be as debilitating as the physical pain.

Doctor visits and post injury care can also lead to financial stress. 

The cost of medical treatment, time away from work, and lost wages can add up fast. 

This can cause immense financial strain on the injured person and their family.

Consider this 2012 stat from the Department of Health and Human Services. Emergency departments treated more than 570,000 basketball injuries in 2012. 

the cost of surgery, ACL sports injuries

In 2019, the National Library of Medicine reported the five year costs of sports injuries. Sports injuries in Florida youth cost $24 million for inpatient care and $87 million for ED care. 

According to their study, youth averaged $6039 for an inpatient visit. Sports injuries averaged $439 for an ED visit.

Additionally, the average charges for an adult range from $2,294 for a sprain to $7,666 for an arm fracture.

I will continue to explore solutions to this problem and post any resources that I find in a future update to this article.


Athletes will have different emotional responses to different types of injuries.


There are four key elements to a successful rehabilitation after a sports injury:

  1. Rest 

It’s important to rest the injured area to allow it to heal. Healing depends on the severity of the injury. So this could mean taking a few days off from the sport for several weeks or months.

Many athletes "power through" pain and challenges. This makes the recovery process that much more difficult.

Yet, when it comes to the recovery process, less is more and physical rest will be key to the best recovery possible.

  1. Rehabilitation 

A well-designed rehabilitation program is essential for recovering from a sports injury. 

The goal of rehab is to regain strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the injured area. 

Often an athletic trainer or sports medicine professional will supervise the rehabilitation.

  1. Prevention

Once you’ve recovered from an injury, it’s important to take steps to prevent future injuries.

This includes stretching, using proper technique, and wearing protective gear.

In the case of knee injuries, this may mean your athlete will need to wear a special knee brace. 

This may last for months after they return to play. These can help reduce the likeliness of a re-occurring injury.

4. Mental Health Services

Mental health care providers can help you manage the psychological factors and challenges. If you do not have the money, try talking to a trusted family member or friend. 

Sharing your emotions after the injury can help.

You can also use mental health resources available online. These can help you "come out the other side" of the injury.

Through therapy, you can emerge with better developed, healthier coping mechanisms.

It's possible some athletes may have pre-existing mental health factors. These can manifest in problematic emotional reactions. 

It's not a sign of weakness to seek help from qualified mental health providers. They give your athlete the support they need to overcome any mental health disorders.

Don't hesitate to seek help if you’re struggling emotionally to recover from a sports injury. 

Find a reputable doctor, mental health therapist, or sports psychologist to help you.



Nervousness about returning to competition after a major injury is a normal emotional reaction for athletes.

It's normal to feel apprehensive when you're back on the field after a physical injury. 

You may have doubts about your capabilities, and you may be afraid of re-injuring yourself. 

But, it's important to remember that your injury is not a reflection of your worth as an athlete. 

You've worked hard to recover, and you deserve to be back on the field. 

Take things one step at a time, and don't push yourself harder than you're comfortable with. 

You'll get back to your normal self in no time.


What is the psychological impact of injury in sport?

There's no question that sustaining an injury while playing sports can have a serious psychological impact. 

After all, sports are often a huge part of our lives and serve as an important outlet for physical activity and competition. 

When injured, we may feel like we've lost a part of ourselves, and it can be tough to cope with the setback.

That said, it's important to remember that sustaining an injury is not the end of the world.

Yes, it can be difficult to deal with at first, but there are ways to manage the psychological impact and eventually move on from the experience.

What are types and/or most common sports injuries?

Four common types of sports injuries are sprains, strains, tears, and dislocations. 

A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament, which is the tissue that connects two bones together. 

The most common type of sprain occurs in the ankle when the foot suddenly twists inward. 

Recovery from a mild sprain may take a few days to a week, while a more severe sprain could take several weeks or even months.

A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon, which is the tissue that connects muscle to bone. Strains often occur in the hamstring (the muscles in the back of the leg) or groin (the muscles in the upper leg). 

Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery from a strain could take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

A tear is a complete or partial rupture of a muscle or tendon. A muscle tear is also known as a muscle pull. 

The most common type of tear occurs in the hamstring, calf or groin muscles. 

Recovery from a tear can take several weeks or even months, depending on the severity of the injury.

A dislocation is when a bone is forced out of its normal position at the joint. 

Dislocations are usually caused by a fall, blow, or other trauma to the body. 

The most common type of dislocation occurs in the shoulder, but it can also occur in the elbow, hip, knee, and ankle. 

Recovery from a dislocation depends on the severity of the injury and can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

How do sports psychologists help athletes with injuries?

Sports psychologists can help athletes in a number of ways when it comes to injuries. 

First, they can help athletes to better understand their injuries and learn how to cope with the psychological aspects of being injured. 

Additionally, sports psychologists can help athletes develop mental strategies for dealing with pain and other difficult symptoms associated with their injuries. 

Finally, sports psychologists can also work with athletes on return-to-sport strategies following an injury, which can help to ease both the physical and psychological transition back into competition. 

Overall, sports psychologists can play an important role in helping athletes to manage the challenges associated with injuries.

Injuries are a part of sports, but that doesn't mean they don't take their toll on our psyches. 

It's normal have emotional highs and lows: motivation, anger, frustration changes.

It's normal to feel apprehensive when you're back on the field after a physical injury. 

Major injuries can trigger significant depression, so the mental health of athletes needs to be monitored after any injury that impacts their ability to compete.

If you're struggling psychologically after an injury, please reach out for help from a qualified professional, like your school sports medicine team or a sports psychologist. 

Finally, we want to hear from you! Share your injury and recovery story with us by tweeting us @collageandwood!

We are cheering for your successful recovery from your athletic injury!

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