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Expert Insight: Transitioning Through Prolonged/ Career Ending Injury

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

With Kat Williamson

Therapist for Sports Injuries

Kat Williamson is a Therapist at her practice NextTurn Therapy. Kat’s clients are athletes and sports people who are navigating the mental and emotional components of injury recovery or transition out of sport.

She is also an avid mountain biker and skier. To work with Kat you can email her at

Emotional, Social, and Self-Concept Factors with Injuries

The only constant in life is change. It is a cliché, but it is true. Throughout our lives we go through transitions in how we view ourselves and how the world views us. These can be hard to grapple with, as it often involves a shedding and a letting go of our past selves which can feel scary and unfamiliar. Injury can often come along and fling us into one of these transitions overnight, long before we are ready.

Our athletic ability and our fitness are things most athletes are very proud of, and rightly so. These are traits we have worked incredibly hard for. These are also traits that people know us by, and often how we know ourselves by: We are the athlete. We are strong. We are fit. We are capable.

What to Expect in Your Recovery Journey

Mountain Biking Sports Injury Story

When we get injured, especially if that injury is prolonged or affects our return to sport, it can feel like all of this was taken from us in a flash. We suddenly face a transition.

Life transitions often follow a foreseeable trajectory:

At first, we understandably cling hard to the person we know ourselves as. We throw ourselves into recovery, transforming that drive we had in the game/ in our training, into beating this injury and getting back out there.

This works for a while, until we realise that we are in too much pain, or the injury isn’t healing fast enough for us to keep up this thirst we have to get back to the game. With this realisation often comes the next stage in a transition: A feeling of crisis.

This is when we are hit with terror that we do not know who we are in this world, or who we are going to be moving forward. We question who our friends are, we question ourselves. Do they even know who we are without sport, do I even know who I am without sport? This time is hard and messy. It can make us feel incredibly unanchored. Often these fears can up-the-ante of the fight we feel to get back to who we were, to get back to the safety of having something to define us. We want to get back to when we felt secure of our place in the world.

Transitioning Through Injury

What we eventually discover in this fight is that that person, the one who we were, is no longer here. We cannot return to the person we were prior to the injury. We are who we are now, today, with all of the experiences that have led us to this point.

Through time and reflection, the crisis can subside. Know that it is ok to grieve the person who you were before. Grief is so often tied up in change though is so rarely acknowledged. Maybe you will not be able to play sport in the same way you used to. Perhaps there will be friends and relationships that fall by the wayside. These are hard changes to acknowledge or understand, they will all come with an element of grief.

But know also that grief is a powerful healer when we let it in. We often have to grieve past versions of ourselves so that we can make room for who we will be.

This new version of our self, and where we find ourselves in the world, may look different. Our injury may have slowed us down slightly or significantly impacted how we move through our life. But this new version still has all the learnings, all the knowledge, all the drive, all the capacity of that version who was in the game. Those are teachers that can drive us forward in this new realm we find ourselves in. It may take some time to find our new place, find our new people, find what excites us in the same way, but know that it is possible. Trust that the capability you had on the field will serve you well in your new self, and you have the strength to deal with whatever comes.

To work with Kat you can email her at, or visit her website, and you can find her on social media here.

Click here if you'd like more great recovery advice from our Expert Insight piece on Coping with Injury - Challenge or Threat.

Download the free Brace Injury Recovery Mobile App today from our Home Page to empower your recovery journey!

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