Many athletes who have undergone ACL surgery recovery would agree that the mental recovery is sometimes worse than the physical. After all, athletes are used to and somewhat expect physical pain, but the long road to recovery can leave many athletes feeling isolated and depressed with a lower self-esteem than they once had.
There are numerous academic articles that have looked at the psychological effects of ACL surgery recovery. In recent years, support groups have sprung up online to help those recovering cope with the emotional effects recovery can have.
Mind Over Matter: Mental Preparedness and ACL Recovery
Athletes often gain their self-confidence from sports, with the team or athletic community usually being integral to their social life. When someone abruptly loses these things due to injury, it can be especially difficult psychologically.
“In particular, athletic injuries associated with excessive time loss from sport may result in ongoing physical and emotional suffering and may benefit from psychological intervention.”
In the article, “Psychological Aspects of ACL Rehabilitation,” they identify three psychological responses that will help determine how athletes will approach the recovery process. Those three responses are: cognitive appraisal, emotional response and behavioral response. The article further states, “Of the three, cognitive appraisal plays a central role. As mind-body clinicians have surmised, it’s primarily mind over matter.”
Athletes that felt like they were able to take an active role in their recovery in both commitment to therapy and mental preparedness were most likely to recover to their pre-injury state.
Doing proactive things such as using active recovery solutions like our pneumatic compression device, PowerPlay can help injured athletes feel like they are actively taking a role towards their recovery.
How to Mentally Prepare for ACL Recovery
Many athletes feel devastated when an ACL injury takes them out for the season. Any athlete who has undergone ACL recovery will tell you that it can be a long and lonely road. That is partly due to the psychological pressure athletes feel (whether that is self-imposed or outside pressure). As we saw earlier in this article, mind over matter can indeed help recovery. However, there are other emotional and social factors that can also help injured athletes recover.
After experiencing three ACL injuries, former professional soccer player Jordan Angeli started the ACL Club. This club strives to be a conduit to help support athletes with ACL injuries who are dealing with negative mental and emotional battles. In the article, “ACL Tears: Eight Things to Do to Recover More Quickly that You Won’t Hear From Your Doctor,” she outlines techniques such as journaling, discovering new hobbies that you couldn’t find time before because of your sport and simply talking about your fears and frustrations.
Fear in particular seems to have a direct correlation on athletes who are recovering from ACL injuries.
Fear of Reinjury and ACL Recovery
In the academic article, “Fear of Reinjury (Kinesiophobia) and Persistent Knee Symptoms Are Common Factors for Lack of Return to Sport After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction,” the research concluded that, “Fear of reinjury was cited by half of the patients who did not return to sport.”
In this study, they looked at athletes who had undergone ACL reconstruction and evaluated why people did or did not return to their pre-injury athletic lives. While the differences in age and stages of life played a factor, half of the patients that didn’t return to their sport was due to fear of getting re-injured. This brings us back to the aforementioned, mind over matter mentality that seems to have a direct correlation with ACL recovery after surgery.
ACL surgery recovery can benefit from mentally being prepared for the healing process. Whether it’s taking ownership by being committed to recovery techniques such as cold and compression devices like PowerPlay or being diligent about physical therapy exercises. Taking ownership in the recovery process allows the injured athlete to feel like they have some sort of control over healing and that seems to help mentally. Additionally, talking about frustrations and finding outside support in other people who have undergone ACL surgery can help athletes overcome some of the mental battles that arise after being injured.
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