How psychology can play a role in healing from sports injuries

Athletes may have physical pain from an injury, but often overlooked is the emotional pain

For many athletes, recovering from any injury that takes them out of the game is hard, especially if it’s a serious injury like an ACL tear or bone break. There’s the physical pain from the injury and the recovery, but what’s often overlooked is the emotional pain it causes for athletes.

Dr. Rhianna Little, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at CHRISTUS Children’s, was introduced to an emerging area of research and science that discussed the psychological impact of sports injuries and their recovery.

Research showed that doctors should spend as much time focusing on the psychological recovery as they do with the physical if they want athletes to return to the same competitive sport and with a lower risk of re-injury.

By sending an athlete to physical therapy for pre-habilitation before their operation and providing a referral to a sports psychologist, it helps them to acknowledge the diagnosis and understand the severity of it, Little said.

“This is gonna be a one year return to sport, and it can be hard to keep their head in the game, especially about the six month where they’re feeling pretty good,” Little said. “But the body has not yet recovered.”

Dr. Elena Mikalsen, a pediatric clinical psychologist at CHRISTUS Children’s, says if an injury occurs, parents should make sure their child stays engaged with the team. By staying engaged, this will help the child not to feel isolated and lose their social support.

Mikalesen says parents should also help their child find another activity while they are healing. Activities can include art, academics, or anything else that can help them feel connected to other people.

For more information, visit CHRISTUS Children’s at