When athletes are injured, they experience not only physical loss, but psychological loss as well. Injured athletes often experience anxiety about returning to play, which can affect safety and athletic performance. They not only need to be physically prepared to return to sport after injury, but they also must be psychologically ready, too. According to a new study published in theJournal of Athletic Training, the scientific publication of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, returning athletes to the playing field before they are fully psychologically prepared can lead to fear, anxiety, re-injury, injury to other body parts, depression, and decreased performance.
“When it comes to injury rehabilitation, it’s really impossible to separate what’s going on in the athlete’s brain from what happens in the rest of the body,” said Douglas D. Glazer, DPE, ATC, author of the study and assistant professor of sports science, Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. “Psychological readiness usually increases as athletes progress through the rehabilitation process; however, if an athlete’s psychological readiness before competition is low, waiting a little longer before returning to the playing field may be the most safe course of action.
Based on findings published in “Development and Preliminary Validation of the Injury-Psychological Readiness to Return to Sport (I-PRRS),” athletes whose psychological readiness does not increase or plateau during rehabilitation can be identified using a valid psychological-readiness scale. Once identified they should then be assisted with psychological interventions, such as a review of coping skills and goal setting, which have been found to increase the confidence of injured athletes. Other techniques include positive imagery geared toward coping self-efficacy; using positive self-talk and relaxation methods; fostering social support; and ensuring athletes are well educated on both the injury and rehabilitation process.
“Using a reliable psychological scale to determine an athlete’s readiness to return to sport is a crucial first step in keeping injured athletes safe and in the game,” Glazer said. “The Injury-Psychological Readiness to Return to Sport scale, or I-PRRS, has been shown to help athletic trainers and other health providers better assess when injured athletes are psychologically ready to return to sport participation.
The first part of the study involved developing a scale to assess psychological readiness to return to sport after injury. An expert panel was instructed to provide suggestions and questions that could be used to measure psychological readiness to return to full participation in sports. These experts included four athletic trainers from two athletic training programs in New England, and three varsity coaches at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-III level.
The participants for the second part of the study were 22 collegiate varsity athletes (18 men, four women, aged 18 to 22) from three schools in New England. Inclusion criteria required athletes to have sustained an athletic injury causing them to miss at least one week of practice. Question topics answered by the athletes included overall confidence to play, confidence to play without pain, confidence to give 100 percent effort, confidence in the injured body part to handle the demands of the situation, confidence to not concentrate on the injury, and confidence in skill level/ability.
To read the article in full, visit http://www.nata.org/jat/readers/archives/44.2/attr-44-02-185.pdf.