BY KAYLA GATES
Injuries are a nearly inevitable aspect of athletic participation. Intense gameplay often requires an athlete to retire to the sidelines for recovery. However, few truly understand the lengths at which an injury impacts an individual. Along with the physical challenges that accompany a severe injury, athletes face obstacles when it comes to their mental health.
Recovering from an injury can be a long and daunting task for any individual. Patients are forced to set aside their regular routines and focus on healing. While this process can evoke emotion from practically anyone, these feelings are amplified for many athletes.
Research has highlighted many psychological factors that are common for athletes to experience once injured: feelings of isolation, fear of re-injury, frustration, anger and tension. These emotions can be tied to the loss of identity many athletes endure when sitting on the bench. The boost in self-esteem supplied by sports is lost during an injury, leaving the individual to cope emotionally.
For some student-athletes, the psychological response to an injury can trigger serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse. If their career as an athlete is threatened, the individual may be at a greater risk of emotional distress.
This idea is prevalent within the community, as young athletes struggle to meet the physical and emotional needs of their injuries. For students who spend the majority of their time on the playing field, sitting out can feel just as painful emotionally as the injury itself. As a result, recovery becomes a second thought for many of these athletes.
Sitting out can feel just as painful emotionally as the injury itself.
One such case is that of sophomore Carina Lageyre. As a student-athlete, Lageyre has seen her fair share of injuries. However, she notes that her most recent experience had a substantial impact on her mental state.
Lageyre plays soccer for the United States women’s national team. She spends the majority of her time training for matches and participating in tournaments across the world. However, her career was briefly put on hold due to a severe injury last year.
Lageyre suffered from a partially torn MCL, which put her on the bench for three months. During this time, Lageyre was incapable of participating in any form of training or competition. Her inability to play took a toll on her emotions, as Lageyre was torn away from her sport.
“It was very difficult being away from the sport that I love, but the injury taught me to not take anything for granted,” Lageyre said. “You never realize how much you love something until it is taken away.”
CCHS’s athletic trainer, Valarie Smith, has found that Lageyre’s experience is not an isolated incident. Smith works with student-athletes on a regular basis, helping them with any medical concerns they may have. However, she has learned that treatment is not always an easy experience for students.
“I have experienced many athletes who just don’t report injuries because of the fear of being held out of competition,” Smith said. “I try to tell all the kids my goal is to keep them playing, but it is also my job as the athletic trainer to keep their best interests and health in mind.”
“Staying positive through the healing and rehabilitation process … will play a major role in the athlete’s recovery.”
The perseverance Smith witnesses may result in further harm to the athlete. Resisting the body’s physical need for rest and recovery for the emotional benefits of playing a sport is a harmful practice. Smith stresses the importance of putting one’s health above the desire to play.
An athlete’s adherence to their recovery plan is also vital to their improvement. In fact, studies have found that an athlete’s behavior during healing can influence the outcome of a rehabilitation program. A lack of motivation to heal an injury can prevent further growth for an athlete.
“Athlete compliance with their rehabilitation protocol is also a huge make or break for the timeline of their return to play,” Smith said. “If an athlete is supposed to come daily for treatment and rehab, and only shows up twice a week, their progress will absolutely be delayed.”
Despite the issues she has observed, Smith shares that this is not a common occurrence when it comes to treating injuries around campus. In fact, most students are able to have a healthy recovery, so long as they take all necessary steps to avoid further harm.
“The mental toll an athlete will go through will depend on the severity of the injury, their support system of friends and family and their belief in themselves [that] they can get better and return to competition,” Smith said. “Staying positive through the healing and rehabilitation process is a huge aspect and will play a major role in the athlete’s recovery.”
Photo by The Lariat Photography