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The Mental Impact of a Physical Injury in an Athlete

On September 20, 2010, the 23 year old Kenny McKinley, Denver Broncos team’s wide receiver, committed suicide by shooting himself. The reason behind his suicide was the severe phase of depression he was going through due to a knee injury he suffered last year.

The knee injury McKinley sustained left him on a reserved list of injures which was too tough for him to handle emotionally. The point to be understood is- the agony beyond physical pain an athlete has to suffer that can leave one emotionally exhausted.

Athletes and Injuries: There has not been a single athlete in the history who remained free of injuries. Every athlete suffers from at least one injury in his/her sporting careers.

The physical injuries that one suffers from would heal in a period of time, but what of the mental pain that the injury leaves behind?

Any injured player obviously would lose his/her place in the team, which can lay immense pressure on an athlete’s mind about being able to secure the place back, the effect on skill levels post an injury, the limitations that one would have to bear with after the injury et. contribute to the stress an athlete would experience.

All these issues can handicap an athlete’s mental side so badly that the levels of anxiety, depression are increased. In extreme cases, the athlete would even develop suicidal tendencies  (McKinley could have suffered from the same).

Hence, it has now become a norm for sporting teams of all natures to have sports psychologist in their team. It becomes the duty of the psychologist to monitor and counsel the patient’s mental health while staying out due to a physical injury.

A Few Research Statistics: A research study conducted by the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport studied 343 athletes from various sporting backgrounds. The motive of the study was to determine the athlete’s mood after suffering from an injury.

Out of the 343 athletes who were considered for the study, almost a 48 percent of them have sustained a physiological injury in the past two months that compelled them to miss games or practice sessions. Let us look at the results of the study.

  • Out of the 48 percent who suffered injuries, a 51 percent showed signs of mild depression just within a week after the injury.
  • Almost a 12 percent of them were found to possess symptoms of moderate-severe depression.
  • Even two months after the injury, almost 27 percent were still suffering from mild depression and nearly 4 percent had severe-moderate depression.
  • Out of the non-injured lot, only a 3 percent of them showed signs of mild depression and just one athlete was ranging in the moderate-severe category. This was after one week.
  • After two months, the non-injured athletes had no depression symptoms whatsoever.

Although, the results of the study may be restricting a broader category of athletes and their injuries, the point to be understood is the risk of depression development in athletes who sustain an injury.

Precisely speaking, to cut the long story short, it is important that the sports managers manage their athletes in a balanced fashion. A physical injury limits an athlete not just on the body’s front but also on the mind’s front. It is important that the athlete is helped to push through his/her anguish, so one can avoid any serious repercussions.

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