Overcoming Fear After a Sports Injury

Foot in cast

After incurring an injury in sports, it can be difficult to recover physically and mentally. Some athletes experience stress and anxiety. Others develop a type of fear, known as post-traumatic stress disorder, that can affect athletic performance. Therapists and psychologists can help you overcome this fear, and there are things you can do as well.


An injury may result in you avoiding playing your sport again, even after you have healed physically. Symptoms of anxiety include muscle soreness, restlessness, fatigue, irregular heart rhythm, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness and nausea. You may have increased irritability and difficulty sleeping and startle more easily. In some cases of severe injury, you may re-experience the trauma of injury by having flashbacks and nightmares of the incident.


Fear following a sports injury can influence rehabilitation, according to a 2000 research study published in “Psychology and Health.” Researchers examined 80 athletes that were undergoing rehabilitation following anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, reconstruction surgery. Using subjective rating scales, researchers found that the participants who feared reinjury were less likely to follow the rehabilitation program. Researchers suggest that lack of motivation following an injury may be an avoidance behavior and a symptom of emotional distress rather than a willful disregard of a training program.


Although therapy is often the most effective treatment to help you overcome your fears, you can take some other steps to help. Educate yourself about the injury. Much of the fear relates to the uncertainty of a sports injury. Talk to your doctor and physical therapist so you know what to expect regarding treatment and prognosis. Take your physical recovery in steps to help you build up your confidence. As you successfully complete each step, you will slowly overcome your fear about playing sports again.


Many therapists and sports psychologist specialize in helping athletes deal with the psychiatric side of sports. Therapists can help you recover after an injury and overcome fear. Some therapists use a technique called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR. This treatment technique works well in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder outside of sports and is now being used for some athletes after injury. Only therapists who have been trained in EMDR may perform the technique, but it helps remove the anxiety from the injury.