A survey of sports medicine physicians regarding psychological issues in patient-athletes

Am J Sports Med. 2007 Dec;35(12):2140-7. doi: 10.1177/0363546507304140. Epub 2007 Jul 19.


Purpose: To determine the extent to which sports medicine physicians encounter and discuss psychological issues among athletes they treat and to evaluate physicians' perceptions of the availability and efficacy of sport psychologists and other mental health resources.

Study design: Cross-sectional study.

Methods: A survey was sent via e-mail to all physician members of 4 prominent sports medicine professional associations: the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine.

Results: The extent to which respondents discuss psychological issues with athletes varied by subspecialty and by specific issues assessed. Fears about reinjury, fears related to surgery, and lack of patience with recovery/rehabilitation were the 3 most common injury-related topics discussed with patient-athletes. The 3 most common non-injury-related topics discussed were stress/pressure, anxiety, and burnout. Family practitioners were more likely to discuss injury-related psychological issues than were orthopaedic surgeons. Orthopaedic surgeons reported the lowest frequencies of discussing non-injury-related psychological issues. Only 19% of all respondents indicated there were adequate numbers of sport psychologists and other mental health professionals in their geographical area to treat the needs of athletes. Three quarters of respondents reported they rarely or never referred athletes to sport psychologists for injury-related issues, and two thirds indicated they rarely or never referred athletes to sport psychologists for non-injury-related problems. Respondents rated sport psychologists and athletic trainers/physical therapists to be moderately effective in working with athletes regarding psychological problems.

Conclusion: Sports medicine physicians frequently encounter psychological issues with patient-athletes. There is a need for tools to facilitate assessment of these problems as well as greater communication between the mental health community and sports medicine physicians. In addition, knowledge of and access to professionals who are specifically trained to deal with the sometimes unique psychological needs of athletes should be improved.

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Orthopedics* / statistics & numerical data
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians, Family* / statistics & numerical data
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Sports / psychology*
  • Sports Medicine* / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires