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Coping with the psychological effects during the rehabilitation of sport injuries

Coping with the recovery of an injury entails both physical and psychological resilience. Even though the predominate focus during the recovery period is around the physical rehabilitation, it is also essential to employ psychological strategies to help cope with the mental stressors which commonly arise when injuries occur.

Injured athletes may often experience negative psychological states and reactions such as anxiety, stress, anger, denial and depression. These negative factors can manifest if not addressed early and can result in prohibiting the recovery from going to plan. Although the different emotions can be overwhelming, it is important to move past the negativity and focus attention on positive coping techniques which can help to deal with the setbacks which have arisen.

Relaxation Skills

Finding a way to relax is key as having an injury can be an extremely stressful phase. Relaxation can be achieved by developing different skills, eg breathing techniques, mindfulness meditation or physical progressive relaxation.

Everyone is different and therefore will find some relaxation techniques more helpful than others. It is about finding a technique which helps you relax the most – relaxation apps, podcast and CDs have often been advised in literature to be helpful ways to put the mind at ease.

Driendiger, Hall and Callow (2006) suggested the use of imagery as an effective strategy to employ during the rehabilitation of a sporting injury. Imagery enables mental practices of key skills which may allow for a smooth and speedy recovery, eg envisioning managing pain and healing.

Psychological practice of skill performance (mastery rehearsal) has been recognised as an effective form of imagery. Thus, exercising this technique can help foster high motivation and self-determination; if the athlete realises that successful performance may be facilitated by mental rehearsal during a period when incompetent to rehearse physically.

Goal Setting

Keeping motivation high during recovery can be challenging for most athletes and can also critically effect commitment towards rehabilitation programs (Podlog, Dimmock and Miller, 2011).

One effective way to promote motivation throughout recovery is goal setting. This can direct energy away from the negativity and keep motivation high through focusing energy towards objective goals of rehabilitation, eg this week I will complete a home-workout.

Research has often proposed goal setting is not only positively associated with high motivation but can also give the athlete a sense of control over their rehabilitation process.

Goal Setting Guide

  1. Identify appropriate rehabilitation goal

  2. Asses the importance of the goal

  3. Identify and analyse potential barriers which could interfere with reaching the goal

  4. Develop a ladder of intermediate

  5. Develop short-term goals to help reach long-term goal


  • Driediger, M., Hall, C. and Callow, N. (2006). Imagery use by injured athletes: A qualitative analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(3), pp.261-272.

  • Podlog, L., Dimmock, J. and Miller, J. (2011). A review of return to sport concerns following injury rehabilitation: Practitioner strategies for enhancing recovery outcomes. Physical Therapy in Sport, 12(1), pp.36-42.

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