Psychological effects of injuries on female athletes

Danielle R. Steilen-Matias, MMS, PA-C

In this article we will explore the psychological impact of recovering from a sports injury in the female athlete.

In 1990, a landmark study from the Mayo Clinic reported:

“Emotional disturbance can occur after a sports-related injury, and its prompt recognition may facilitate the athlete’s optimal rehabilitation and a safe return to participation in sports.”1

In new research from 2017, doctors in the United Kingdom found psychosocial factors were associated with a range of sports injury rehabilitation outcomes. Practitioners need to recognize that an injured athlete’s thoughts, feelings and actions may influence the outcome of rehabilitation.2

Twenty-seven years later, we are still looking at the same problem.

In regard to the female athlete, knee injuries and their psychological effects have been of great focus. Researchers writing in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine say that knee injuries can negatively impact emotional health-related quality of life in the female athlete.

The researchers looked at 255 women who injured their knee participating in sport or recreational activities. Injuries were categorized as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, anterior knee pain, patellar instability, meniscus tear, collateral ligament sprain, and other.

Use a scoring system they measured physical functioning, bodily pain, general health, vitality, social function, and emotional and mental health.

They noted:

“In addition to negatively affecting knee function, sport medicine providers should be aware that knee injuries can negatively impact the health-related quality of life in these athletes immediately after injury.”3

In other words, knee injuries go beyond a pain and dysfunction. Emotional quality of life is at stake, placing an even greater emphasis on sports injury healing.

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1 Smith AM, Scott SG, O’Fallon WM, Young ML. Emotional responses of athletes to injury. Mayo Clin Proc. 1990 Jan;65(1):38-50. [Mayo Clinic Findings]

2 Forsdyke D, Smith A, Jones M, Gledhill A. Psychosocial factors associated with outcomes of sports injury rehabilitation in competitive athletes: a mixed studies systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2016 May;50(9):537-44. [Pubmed]

3. McGuine TA, Winterstein A, Carr K, Hetzel S, Scott J. Changes in Self-Reported Knee Function and Health-Related Quality of Life After Knee Injury in Female Athletes. Clin J Sport Med. 2012 May 23. [Pubmed]


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