The Impact of Injury in Sport

The Impact of Injury in Sport

Athletes that sustain injury in sport may encounter obstacles that can bring about depression and several other revolving issues that may negatively factor into their psyche; consciously and unconsciously. “Whether you’re a professional hockey player, a college gymnast or a recreational basketball player, an injury certainly has the potential to impact your psychological well-being” (Webster, 2014, para. 2). Professional or not, all athletes can experience psychological damage after an injury, but the more success the sport brings an individual, the more likely the athlete will experience some form of depression. Once an athlete feels a lack of self-worth and their identity starts to fade into the shadows, the higher the impact can negatively play into their future success and outlook on life.


Not only does self-worth start to fade post-injury, but arising issues such as financial stress or loss of career opportunity may result in an athlete to become seriously depressed, and even worse, suicidal. For most elite and professional athletes, sport is a lifestyle. This lifestyle brings about an abundant following of fans, a following on social media, fame and fortune. Balancing the everyday physical and mental pressures of being a star athlete can become overwhelming and taxing on an athlete. For this reason, aside from athletic injury that may occur in an athlete's career, the importance for an athletic trainer and a sports psychologist to invest a firm understanding of their athletes psyche, is pivotal towards navigating the athlete away from harm and back towards a solid, mental, and physical foundation.

Sports Medicine Experts

For most successful athletes, sport has identified each individual and placed them in center-stage. To lose playing time or a starting position as a collegiate or professional athlete can be equal to a non-athlete losing their dream job. Therefore, an athletic trainer who works on rehabilitating athletes back to optimal performance must understand each individual athlete's mindset, and creatively design a rehabilitation plan around that information. “Some physically active people find it difficult to adhere to a rehabilitation plan of care. Creative plans must be developed to fit the person’s needs, such as prescribing exercises that can be done at home or with limited equipment” (Denegar, E. Saliba, & S. Saliba, 2016, p 58). Not all professionals in a sports medicine team may not have the same working and close relationship that the athletic trainers do, but these professionals should all be aware and understand the dynamics, aspects, and process of recovery. Certified athletic trainers work closely with their athletes, both before and after injury; understanding of each athlete and injury, personal attention given to each individual, and caring attitude that is provided by trainers, can have a positive or negative effect on the athlete's psychological and physical recovery towards treatment with therapeutic modalities (Denegar, E. Saliba, & S. Saliba, 2016).

Minor Muscle Injuries

During the course of an athletic injury, the acronym commonly used among athletes and sports medicine professionals is rest, ice, compression, and elevate (RICE) and is quickly taken into consideration and applied to the injured athlete but, not in all situations. Acute muscle injuries happen when an athlete suddenly stretches a muscle beyond its point or level of elasticity (Morrison, 2016). Therefore, in this situation, resting the damaged area, applying a cold compress or ice, compressing it with elastic wrap or something that can keep a strong hold around the injured site, and then elevating it, is the first step towards recovery, so they say.

While applying RICE is commonly used to help decrease “pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, swelling and tissue damage” that is caused from “pulled muscles, sprained ligaments, soft tissue injury, and joint aches” it may not be used for a more severe injury. RICE is immediately applied to the injury site for joint and muscle injuries, and should be assessed between a 24-48 hour window. If swelling and pain increases, then the injured athlete must seek medical advice.

RICE Delays the Healing Process

Recently, Gabe Mirkin (who coined the term RICE) made a discovery against his application of applying RICE to an injured area on an athlete. When he wrote his best-selling Sportsmedicine Book, the main focus was to apply ice as a standard treatment for injured and sore muscles. When an athlete has a muscle injury, often times the area that has been affected on the body will become painful and inflamed. Applying ice will help reduce the immediate inflammation and reduce the pain. Applying ice, followed by compression, will delay the swelling, but will not rapidly recover the injury. “A summary of 22 scientific articles found almost no evidence that ice and compression hastened healing over the use of compression alone, although ice plus exercise may marginally help to heal ankle sprains” (Mirkin, 2014, para. 2).

Process of Healing

Damaged muscles develop impaired tissue that is brought on by soreness through intense exercising. Through the process of healing, the immune system kicks in and sends cells to the injured site, also known as inflammatory cells. These cells quickly rush to the injured tissue and release a hormone called, Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1), which helps the injured area of the body to quickly heal. In correspondence to applying ice, the process of the IGF-1 is delayed, and the ice (or cold compress) prevents the body from healing, therefore the injured athlete will not heal as quickly as they could, or should (Mirkin, 2014). Reduction of a body's immune response, delays the muscle healing process. When ice is applied, blood vessels constrict, which causes the blood flow to the injured site to be reduce or completely shut off. It may take up to several hours after the ice is applied, for the blood vessels to open again, therefore the decrease in blood flow may cause tissue damage or tissue death, which can also cause permanent nerve damage (Mirkin, 2014). As research continues on this topic, applying ice immediately for short (less than 5 minutes) can be done to help reduce pain, but should not exceed past 10 minutes. The swelling process should not be delayed, as this is what helps heal an injury. More research shall be distinguished in order to make a complete decision on applying ice to all injuries. Currently, the research that demonstrates the setbacks of applying ice, is enough to withdraw the process from RICE.


Denegar, C.R., Saliba, E., & Saliba, S. (2016). Therapeutic modalities for musculoskeletal injuries(4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Mirkin, G. (2014, March 20). Why ice delays recovery. Retrieved from website

Morrison, W. (2016, August 2). Sports injury treatment. Retrieved by website

Webster, H. (2014, July 21). How to overcome depression after a sports injury. Retrieved from website

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All