Getting Over an Injury (Mentally)

By Saxony Matousek, DPT, PT

You’re injured. Now what?

Regardless of your fitness level or how you became injured, one of the most important parts of recovery is the mental aspect (understanding what happened, educating yourself on what to do/not do while healing, learning how to avoid re-injury). Think of your injury as a way to reset your body and the way you move, rather than a setback to your everyday life.

Here are some helpful tips to aid you in mentally overcoming your physical injury:

Take responsibility:  Regardless of how the injury happened, it is now up to you to make the right decisions in order to heal your body;  you are responsible for your own healing process.

Whether it was your fault or not, blaming the external environment for your injury will only delay the healing process. You may not have been able to prevent it (getting rear-ended, slipping on unsalted ice), but you can take control of what happens to you from here on. Take control of what you can, which is taking care of you.  This is quite a difficult feat for most of us, and some mindful meditation may be needed to assist in refocusing your current condition.

Realize that depending on where the injury occurred and how severe it is, as a (very) general rule, tissue healing time is about 6 weeks.

Breathe:  Deep breathing (aka diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing) not only eases muscle tension (that you may not even realize you are holding onto), but it also dampens your sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system, which after injury can be in a heightened state.  This causes your pain that is 4/10 (moderate) to feel like an 8/10 (severe).  Taking just five minutes daily to practice deep breathing will help to transition you to a better mindset about your injury, while also decreasing pain.

Slow down and listen:  Ignoring your pain or pushing through movements that cause pain can lengthen healing time. This is especially true if you are going right back to your normal routine.  Each time you experience the same pain to the injured site (which manifests as a sharp sensation), you are activating the same inflammatory agents that initiated the healing process.  While the inflammatory response is very effective and efficient in healing the damaged tissues short-term, it is not good for the inflammatory response to stick around long-term.  The more you slow down and focus on slow, pain-free range of motion, the less responsive the inflammatory agents will be, therefore allowing the body to become less reactive.  This allows for the body to complete the entire tissue healing process.  Simply put – (especially) after an injury, “No Pain, No Gain” is not a good motto to live by.

Re-educating the Body

Learn about yourself:  How much time did you invest in knowing your body before your injury? Although you may never get to the root of the underlying problem of the injury, take this time to learn about factors that may have contributed.  You may need to make a lifestyle change in order to prevent re-occurrence of injury. Did you break your arm as a result from tripping? Did you tear your rotator cuff while doing bench presses? Improper body mechanics, muscle imbalances, and poor balance can all make you susceptible to injury.

Examples: Did you trip and fall? How great is your balance? Can you comfortably stand on one leg without becoming unstable? If not, you may require focused balance exercises to make you more stable as you maneuver through your environment. Same with a shoulder injury. How great was your posture before the injury? Knowing what your body was lacking pre-injury can prevent or decrease healing time.

Learn to keep moving:  We are all creatures of habit. Now that you are injured, you are forced to rethink your normal routine.  Use this injury as an opportunity to explore different workouts and muscles that you may have been neglecting.  Were you constantly running on a treadmill before you sprained your ankle?  Explore how a low impact exercise such as Pilates can not only improve the health of your ankle, but also can help you to be more efficient at running, once you are able to get back to it.  If your shoulder is injured from lifting weights, think about picking up a theraband and working out the posture stabilizing muscles that you have not thought much about or spent enough time on in the gym.

After the pain is gone, you may ease back into a lighter form of your regular routine, decreasing resistance, repetitions, and time spent doing the activities you did pre-injury.

Learn to be realistic:  You may need to make long-term lifestyle changes that will help to prevent re-occurrence of this injury. The positive takeaway from the injury is that you have (hopefully) learned about your body, how it heals, and what makes it feel better or worse; and through this process, learned that you want to keep your body feeling great, which may mean…

Changing footwear, adjusting workouts accordingly, adjusting daily activities (or lack of) accordingly, and becoming mindful of when something is hurting.

Get someone on your team:  Visit a physical therapist- he or she will be able to analyze your movement and uncover underlying weakness and dysfunction that may have been setting your body up to “fail.” He or she will help you to find the road to long-term recovery, giving you the tools you need such as exercises, advice on body mechanics, and ergonomic set up at work. Most important of all, though, the physical therapist will help to reiterate the importance of making your body’s health and wellness a life-long commitment!



Saxony Matousek, DPT, PT, is a Licensed Physical Therapist at ARC Physical Therapy’s 150 South Wacker – Chicago location. She graduated from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, and enjoys dance, Pilates, and traveling. To schedule a free pain consultation with with Saxony, please call (312) 877-5470 or email her at


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