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Advice for Injured Athletes

Written by Dr. Emma Scaro, DC MS CCSP. Dr. Emma is a previous division 1 and professional soccer player, she is also a sports chiropractor at Chiros in Motion. She talks about her experience with injuries and advice that she has to offer athletes experiencing a difficult injury.

Mindset is crucial during recovery from a sports injury (or any injury). Going from playing your sport and doing everyday activities to not being able to walk or tie your shoe is mentally tolling. Common emotions athletes experience during recovery are hopelessness, feeling stuck, feeling left out, and many more. This post is to remind you that you are not alone. Thousands of athletes have been injured and felt this way. Some have completely recovered and some are just starting their recovery process. You may be somewhere along that journey. I want to offer some key advice that I give to patients recovering from severe injury and advice that has helped me throughout my recoveries. 

This post is very personal to me. I have had 5 major knee surgeries. This is typically something I don’t like to talk about because people will always voice an opinion on “how I should have stopped playing”, “how my knees will never be the same” or any countless number of negative mindsets towards an end goal I was having. Meanwhile, sometimes my end goal was just to simply walk without assistance – and people would be offering advice about how I should never play again. If you are reading this, know your mindset is your own to control, regardless of what other people tell you.

My soccer career ended with my 4th knee surgery. Throughout that process, I had a range of emotions from anger to sadness, and hopelessness. At that time, my sport was gone “forever” and so was my ability to take care of myself. There were times I thought I would never run or be active again. But, after each surgery, I grew stronger in knowing that there is an end. If there is a small goal to focus on – a small, achievable goal, then I knew I could fully recover. 

“Here are 5 key pieces of advice I can offer you or anyone you know who is working through a severe injury. “

1. Focus on what you can do today and what you couldn’t do yesterday. 

Notice the small changes in progress. Keep a journal. From time to time reference back to your original writings a few days after injury or surgery. Notice how far you have come since then. Whether it’s a week or a month notice what you can do today what you couldn’t do previously.

2. Politely ask your relatives, friends, or anyone close to you to only offer positive and encouraging thoughts 

If someone is talking in your ear about the “horrible” things to come, about all arthritis you’re going to develop, or the events you won’t be able to take part in, or XYZ. Try to counteract their negative comment with a positive one (if you don’t say it out loud do it mentally), politely ask them not to talk about your injury, or simply ask “how can we focus on the positive aspects of my recovery?”

3. Avoid focusing on pain. 

Instead of focusing on pain, focus on function. This goes back to number one. Pick any outcome marker (a small goal) that you perform daily, this marker can be as simple as putting on your shoe, getting full range of motion back, or walking without assistance. Whichever function you choose, focus on that. When you are experiencing an increase in pain, switch your focus to “how is my range of motion going? – ah yes I have increased about 10 degrees since last week”. This gives you the ability to see progress. Pain is an experience that is changed by many factors – focusing on it will limit your ability to see progress. 

4. Allow yourself to experience the emotions that you feel 

I wish I could say that by reading this article you are simply going to let go of all your negative thoughts. If you are going through the grieving process right now then you know that is not the case. Athletes have such high standards of themselves. A common emotion is to get frustrated with yourself for being upset about the injury. This is your sign to let yourself be upset. Allow yourself to experience the emotions you feel, without any negativity towards yourself. 

During one my hardest times after surgery, I reached out to a friend who offered advice that I still hold on to. She said, “give yourself one day to be as sad, upset, and angry as you want – but after that one day move forward”. For you, it could be a half day or a couple of days, but either way, set a date for yourself. Set a time period when you can be upset and move forward from there. 

5. Keep movement in your life 

After an injury, there are ways to keep movement in your life. Safely do this. Talk to your provider about any way you can keep moving. If you have a lower-body injury, ask what upper-body exercises you can do. If you injured your foot or hand, ask what core or opposite body exercises you can still do. Keeping movement in your non-injured regions can help increase mood and increase recovery time. 

Learning exercises to do allows you to keep your old training habits – but replaces them with new exercises. Now, instead of sitting out during practices you have something to do and progress to be made. 

Overall this post is to help steer your mindset in a positive direction. Having a positive mindset during recovery can help improve your quality of life and those 5 steps can help you get there. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions. My email is 

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