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Sports Medicine

Emotional Attention Important for Injured Athletes

When an athlete becomes injured, everyone involved from physician to coach ponders the same question, "When can I play again?" The answer is: A safe, successful, and timely return to sports goes beyond physical rehabilitation.

The psychological aspects of return to play cannot be minimized. The athlete's state of mind is important to the recuperation process and can potentially explain why some athletes return to play more quickly from injury than others. To an athlete, an injury is a loss in many ways. When the injured athlete is taken away from an environment where he or she is comfortable and thriving, this can lead to anxiety and depression.

To ensure the well-being of the athlete, it is suggested that physicians use a personalized team-approach that is tailor-made for the individual and takes into account not only current and previous injuries, but also the type of sport the athlete plays. Return to play is sport- and athlete-specific, and a particular recipe of when an athlete is going to come back is all too often unpredictable.

Incorporating physical therapists, athletic trainers, coaches, parents, and teammates into the treatment and rehabilitation process is crucial for the injured athlete. Around the world, physicians are recognizing that the team approach is so valuable because it is the athletic trainers and physical therapists whom are with these athletes on a day-to-day basis. When an athlete sees everyone he or she trusts working as a team, it helps in terms of building confidence and adjusting more easily when returning to play.

Many physicians assume that the injured athlete is ready to go once he or she has resumed full strength and full range of motion of the injured body part. The problem with only implementing these parameters is that they may not be looking closely enough at the psychological aspects of return to play.

The longer athletes are away from their sport, the more challenging and difficult it can be for them to return. It is important that everyone involved in the care of athletes be empathetic to their situation and show they recognize the physical and emotional trauma associated with a potentially career-ending injury.

This article is based on information provided by The Ohio State University Medical Center Media Relations Office and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2010.

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Last Reviewed: Apr 21, 2010

Thomas  Best, MD, PhD, FACSM Thomas Best, MD, PhD, FACSM
Professor of Family Medicine
Health & Rehab Sciences
Orthopaedics
SBS-Biomedical informatics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University