Health, Mind & Body

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How to cope with an athletic injury

As any professional athlete can attest, even the most athletic and physically fit individuals can suffer an injury. Professional athletes typically have highly trained medical personnel at their disposal as they recover from injury, but men and women who don't draw a paycheck for their athletic exploits have no such luxury, making it far more difficult to recover from and cope with injury.

Each individual body responds to injury in different ways. For example, one person may heal from a hamstring injury in as little as a few weeks, while others must endure a healing process that lasts several months. But no matter how different athletes' bodies may be, there are coping mechanisms every athlete can employ to help deal with the mental toll that injuries can take.

• Stay involved. Athletes who train heavily and devote much of their free time to pursuing their sport of choice may feel as though their world has come crashing down when they suffer an injury. But even if you cannot compete, you can still stay involved in your sport. If you are physically capable, offer to volunteer at sanctioned events, which can help you maintain a connection with your sport and keep abreast of the happenings within that community. If your injury is so limiting that active volunteering is nearly impossible, you can still attend events and then blog about them afterward. The important thing is to recognize that, while an injury may prevent you from competing, you can still find other ways to stay involved.

• Set realistic recovery goals. Many athletes begin physical therapy or their rehabilitation processes with a gung-ho attitude, insisting they will return from injury stronger than they were before. While that's a great attitude, it's important that athletes temper their enthusiasm for recovery with a dose of reality. Recovery is not overnight, and even the most elite athletes, many of whom are accustomed to their bodies responding in the way they want them to respond, can be discouraged if they enter the rehabilitation process with unrealistic expectations. Work with your physical therapist, physician or trainer to establish realistic recovery goals, using your enthusiasm to meet your short- and long-term recovery goals. Be flexible when setting your recovery goals, as you never know how your body will respond to treatment.

• Expect setbacks. Setbacks are an unfortunate reality of recovery for many athletes. Don't allow yourself to become discouraged if a goal can't be met because your body is simply not ready or needs to pause in its recovery process. A setback can be frustrating, but you can cope with setbacks by writing about them, be it on a blog or in a personal journal. Many athletes have found that writing down their feelings is an effective way to deal with the frustration of the recovery process. Keeping a journal or recovery blog can also help you cope with any future setbacks down the road, as you can look back and see what did or did not help you deal with past obstacles.

Athletic injuries can be thorns in the sides of committed athletes, who may or may not know what to do with themselves when sidelined with significant injuries. But there are various ways for athletes to cope with injuries and make the recovery process less frustrating.