Mind and Body (I) – Psychological Factors For Sports Injury Rehabilitation

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In the past, much of our efforts to rehabilitate an injured athlete focused on the physical causes and their treatment options. It leaves out much of the psychological dimensions of the injury and its rehabilitation. Today, psychological factors increasingly play an important role in rehabilitation. This is particularly so for sports where there are greater time pressures to return the athlete to optimal peak performance as quickly as possible.

Psychological Factors For Sports Injury Rehabilitation

There are five key psychological factors – goal-setting, imagery, positive self-talk, relaxation and social support – that play an integral role in the recovery process.

Goal Setting


Goal-setting is the first important of the five factors that have to be established clearly. The remaining four factors are important in that they aid goal attainment.

Studies have shown that injured athletes using goal-setting exhibit greater performance improvement than those not using goal-setting.


Mental imagery is the process of using the imagination to rehearse, imagine or replay situations in the “theatre of the mind”.

Positive healing and/or sports performance imagery has been shown to be correlated to faster recovery times. Unsurprisingly, negative imagery has the opposite effect. Examples of negative imagery include replaying the injury scene excessively.

Positive Self-talk

Positive self-talk is the process by which the athlete’s negative thoughts are predicted into positive, task-oriented thoughts and affirmations. Many athletes have the tendency to dwell on negative or irrational thoughts and beliefs about themselves. This is especially so in areas such as their injury, or their return to performance. Following injury, positive self-talk techniques are useful to help counteract the problem of low self-confidence in athletes.


Relaxation training is a recommended psychological tool for use with injured athletes during rehabilitation. This is done in conjunction with other techniques to relieve pain and stress. Staying loose and relaxed facilitates recovery.

Social Support

Social support systems for athletes include family and friends, and relationships with teammates, coaches, and therapists. It is found to be effective in helping the athlete make a better appraisal of their situation (towards positive imagery) and through the emotional adjustment process.

The next article in this series, Mind and Body (II) – Mental Goals for Sports Injury Rehabilitation, and Mind And Body (III) – Imagination And Self Talk For Sports Injury Rehabilitation will focus on goal setting in greater detail.

Adapted from a technical paper contributed by Poh Yu Khing, a sports and performance psychologist. Poh Yu Khing was formerly the Head of Sport Psychology at the Singapore Sports Council. An ex-national badminton player, he has also taken part in small endurance events such as the half-marathon and mini-triathlons. In his spare time outside of his day job, he enjoys consulting with athletes and performers as a freelance sports & performance psychologist. He was also the author of a regular “Golfing Mind” column in the local GOLF magazine.