The psychological effects of sports injuries. Coping

Sports Med. 1990 Jun;9(6):352-69. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199009060-00004.


Epidemiological reports of sports injury confirm a high incidence of injuries occurring at all levels of sport participation, ranging in severity from cuts and bruises to spinal cord injury. The psychosocial dynamics accompanying sport injury should be known to ensure psychological recovery, an important aspect in rehabilitating the injured athlete. Earlier studies demonstrating psychological differences between athletes and nonathletes indicated the need for actual research on the athlete's postinjury response in lieu of accepting the hypothesis that the emotional responses of athletes to injury parallels existing (i.e. terminally ill) 'loss of health models'. Recent research has shown that injured athletes experience simultaneous mood disturbance and lowered self-esteem. Due to a paucity of research on the coping methods of injured athletes, studies involving the coping methods of several nonathletic patient populations were reviewed. These patients benefitted primarily from a concrete, problem-focused, behaviourally orientated programme which minimises uncertainty. This approach is theoretically ideal for injured athletes, congruent with the goal setting and performance outcome emphasis common to exercise and sport training programmes but to date the effectiveness of these strategies for injured athletes have not been fully examined. Therefore, until such research is available, these coping strategies (also used for performance enhancement) are provided as therapeutic guidelines for dealing with the emotional distress experienced by injured athletes. Individual responses of injured athletes varied from those who took injury in stride to those who required psychiatric intervention. This marked individual variation in response underscores the importance of neither assuming mood disturbance nor overlooking a serious emotional response in the injured athlete. Awareness of the emotional responses of athletes to injury and employment of appropriate coping strategies should facilitate optimal rehabilitation and return to sport.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Athletic Injuries / psychology*
  • Athletic Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Counseling
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological