10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Injury

Unfortunately, injuries happen. They can happen to everyone and definitely do not discriminate. Injuries can be sports related, from an accident such as a car wreck, or even from simply being older and more fragile. While they can be difficult to manage and cause set backs, they are just a part of being physically active. Regardless of what caused an injury, rest is crucial for physical healing. But did you know that physical injuries are also intertwined with psychological health?

For some people, especially athletes, injuries can deeply affect their mental health. Serious injuries can cause:

  • immense shame
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • other mental health disorders.

Their psychological response to their injury can also determine the speed of their recovery, and if they even recover at all. Keep reading to learn all of the ways in which injuries can be tied to human psychology. Here are 10 things to know about the psychology of injury…

Recovering from an injury can depend on mental health.

Healing is so much more than a physical act. Melissa Christino, M.D., a surgeon in the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children’s Hospital, shares in a literature review with her colleagues that injury and healing equally involve the body and mind. While speaking about Christino’s work, Boston Children’s Hospital shared that “certain psychological responses can complicate the healing process, particularly when an injury is extensive or requires surgery. Yet other psychological reactions can actually boost recovery and help an athlete return to sports healthy and strong.” Essentially, good mental health is so important for healing and recovery. 

There are 5 psychological stages of injury. 

According to experts, there are 5 psychological stages that take place when someone experiences a physical injury. Experts believe that the stages are unavoidable but when good mental health practices are taking place, the stages can be easier to move through. They can also speed up the recovery process if the injury is not permanent. The stages go as follows…

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Some injuries unfortunately last forever. 

While recovery is common for many types of injuries, sometimes it’s just not possible. Some athletes, professional or amateur, suffer from injuries that prevent then from ever playing their sport again. Some common accidents, such as falling or getting into a crash, can leave people with chronic pain or even physical paralysis. This can be extremely hard for someone’s mental health, as you can imagine.

Poor mental health can make you more prone to injury. 

Similar to how healing means syncing your body and mind, mental health is extremely important when it comes to good physical health. Poor mental health affects one’s overall health and can lead to physical conditions such as:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • risk of stroke, and more.

However, it can also make one more susceptible to injuries. When our brain feels weak, our body is typically weak as well. Not only does this make one more likely to succumb to injury, it also prolongs the healing and recovery process. 

Injury can promote many psychological conditions.

Injuries can be extremely difficult to manage emotionally. They can lead to:

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  • an extended stay at the hospital
  • bed rest at home,
  • an inability to play one’s favorite sport, etc.

Having to restrict physical activity can be very difficult. Additionally, if an injury is keeping someone from doing what they love or bringing in an income, it can feel mentally debilitating. In all of these situations and more, injury is known to promote psychological conditions. These common mental disorders may include..

  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety
  • Anger and tension
  • Insomnia
  • Fear 

Injury can be considered a trauma for somebody.

Injury is a physical trauma to our body. It can cause:

  • tenderness
  • pain
  • swelling
  • limited mobility
  • numbness, etc.

It’s a common thought to consider physical trauma to only be an issue for physical health. We tend to think that if we heal the physical issue at hand, everything else is fine. In reality, physical injury is so much more complicated than that. It can affect us on a psychological level. This would make it also a psychological trauma that our brain remembers. These kinds of traumas can cause mental conditions such as:

  • PTSD
  • anxiety
  • insomnia, etc. 

Injury to the brain is unfortunately very common.

We can injure practically any part of our body, including our brain. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused by a severe blow or jolt to the head that ultimately causes brain damage. This could be from an object such as :

  • a bullet
  • a collision in sports
  • a fall
  • a motor vehicle accident, and so on.

The human brain is very sensitive.Brain injuries common. They can lead to a great deal of short term and long term symptoms. Some of these may include:

  • Struggling with personality/sense of self
  • Mobility issues
  • Increased irritability
  • Feeling impatient
  • Not being tolerant of others behaviors/mistakes
  • Feeling over stimulated 
  • Trouble with focus/concentration
  • Memory loss (short term and long term)

Taking medications for injuries can affect us psychologically. 

The world of medicine is impressive and vast. Medications are great for pain relief, healing, and allowing people with chronic pain to live normal lives. However, medications such as opioids for pain management and relief can have both physical and psychological side effects. This is why doctors recommend that patients don’t take them for longer than necessary. Some of these psychological struggles may include:

  • Addiction
  • Changes in personality
  • Confusion and disorientation 
  • Feelings of anger and hostility 
  • Lowered libido 
  • Struggles with eating 
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Fears often develop after an injury. 

Unfortunately, suffering through an injury can traumatize past the physical injury itself. Kidwell and Gallagher, injury lawyers based in Nevada, tackled this topic on their blog. They share how “You could have been trapped in severe car crashes, elevator incidents, and other accidents.” And continue on by sharing that “Whether you were trapped for a few minutes or a few hours, psychological conditions could develop and have a major impact on your healing and emotional state.” Some of the psychological conditions that people commonly suffer from after an injury may include…

  • Kinesiophobia: a fear of movement, fear of re-injury
  • Claustrophobia: fear of small spaces 
  • PTSD: suffering from triggers of past traumatic event that occurred 
  • Nyctophobia: fear of dark conditions 
  • Traumatophobia: fear of certain location or situation related to your injury 

Mental health therapy can help with physical injuries. 

As we have said, physical injuries are often followed by psychological conditions and disorders. While these can vary in intensity, it’s always good to take care of your mental health. Mental health therapy is actually a great way to understand and heal physical injuries as well as the difficult mental conditions that can arise from them. Mental health therapy is great for:

  • Talking about the physical trauma that happened
  • Discussing current fears related to the injury
  • Discussing possible disorders that have come up post injury
  • Boosting self esteem 
  • Learning healthy coping skills
  • Talking to others in support groups

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