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Expert Insight: Overcoming the Mental Side of Sports Injuries

Keagen Hadley is a Doctor of Occupational Therapy and psychiatric clinical researcher, who specialises in using psychological treatments such as Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) with his clients. He has a deep understanding of how emotional distress can interfere with rehabilitation, daily activities, and overall quality of life - and the necessary interventions to overcome this.


As an athlete, he tore both ACLs playing college and semi-professional football. This experience made him acutely aware of the struggles associated with ACL injuries and the various issues that can arise psychologically due to this condition.


He is passionate about nutrition, joint health, mental health, entrepreneurship, fitness technology, and personal development, all of which are the topics of focus for his blog, book, and planned future offerings.



Sports injuries can be some of the most mentally challenging injuries to overcome. Not only do you have to worry about the physical healing process, but you also have to deal with the emotions that come along with it. Many people feel like they have let their team down, or that they are not good enough anymore. This can be especially difficult for athletes who identify themselves as being "one with their sport."


In this blog post, we will discuss some of the common mental challenges associated with sports injuries and how to overcome them.


Common Sports Injuries


There are many different types of sports injuries, and each one can come with its own set of mental challenges. Here are some of the most common sports injuries.


- Knee ligament injuries: These injuries can be extremely difficult to overcome mentally, as they often require a long recovery period and can be very painful.


- Achilles tendon injuries: These injuries can also be very difficult to overcome mentally, as they often require a long period of immobilisation.


- Shoulder injuries: These injuries can be difficult to deal with mentally because of not only the toll it takes on your ability to play your sport, but also how often this joint is used in everyday life.


- Concussions: These injuries can be especially difficult to deal with mentally because of the potential long-term effects they can have.


Mental Challenges Associated with Sports Injuries


There are many different mental challenges that can come along with sports injuries. Here are some of the most common ones:


- Feeling like you have let your team down: This is a common feeling among athletes who suffer from sports injuries. You may feel like you are not good enough anymore, or that you have let your team down.


- Feeling isolated: Many athletes feel isolated when they are injured because they can no longer be with their team or participate in their sport. This can be a very difficult feeling to overcome.


- Feeling anxious or depressed: It is common for athletes to feel anxious or depressed after sustaining a sports injury. This is often due to the fear of not being able to return to their sport, or the worry that their injury will never heal properly.


- Difficulty sleeping: Many athletes have difficulty sleeping after sustaining a sports injury. This is often due to the pain they are in, or the anxiety and worry they are feeling.


Tips for Overcoming the Mental Side of Sports Injuries

There are many different things you can do to help overcome the mental challenges associated with sports injuries. Here are some tips that I personally used following all four of my knee surgeries:


- Talk to someone: It is important to talk to someone about how you are feeling after sustaining a sports injury. This can be a friend, family member, therapist, or anyone else with who you feel comfortable talking.


- Set small goals: After sustaining a sports injury, it is important to set small goals for yourself. These goals can be anything from being able to walk without pain, to being able to run again. By setting small goals, you will be able to see the progress you are making, and it will help motivate you to keep going. Try to mindfully set your goals so that you can achieve even the most minuscule goal each week.


- Find a support group: There are many different types of support groups for athletes who have sustained sports injuries. These groups can be a great way to connect with other athletes who are going through the same thing as you. They can also provide you with support and advice on how to overcome the mental challenges associated with your injury.

- Cultivate psychological flexibility skills: This was the most beneficial component of my psychological recovery following surgery. We all know that emotionally our sports injuries take a toll on us, but what are your physical therapist, athletic trainer, or coach doing to prepare you mentally for your return to sport?


That is why I wrote my book Torn, which outlines the necessary skills to overcome your physical injury psychologically. I go into full detail about my struggles with mental health and how psychological flexibility took me from suicidal to successful in three years.

If you are struggling with the mental side of your sports injury, I encourage you to seek out help. There are many resources available to help you overcome the challenges you are facing. You are not alone. Remember to talk to someone, set small goals, find a support group, and cultivate psychological flexibility skills. These tips will help you recover from your injury both physically and mentally.



If you'd like to hear more great advice from Keagen you can follow his blog, Instagram account (@theACLtherapist) or order his book Torn: Overcoming the Psychological Challenges Post-ACL Injury.


If you're recovering from an injury or are a practitioner supporting clients in the process, you can download the free Brace app from our home page to take control of the injury recovery journey in a positive and connected way!


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