This idea of letting our own thoughts, worries, and stress from our mind manifest injury within our bodies interests me because I notice I only get injured after a period of mental challenge . Currently, I have a tight piriformis muscle and am experiencing an annoying pain all down my leg due to pressure on my sciatic nerve. This injury has taken place only after a stressful previous bout of attempted training as I tried to tough out workouts through mental disengagement, anxiety, and lack of sleep because I would be so distraught at night that I couldn’t sleep. I believe these factors are what led me to my current injury because I would be experiencing total body tension from anxiety and inability to repair my muscle at full capacity due to lack of sleep.
While I don’t necessarily believe that we can chalk all injury up to mental or emotional stress, I do believe that it may contribute to the risk or development for the possibility of injury. This idea has been thrown around in the field of sport psychology and has had limited research, but from what has been concluded in several studies is that stress can cause increased risk for injury. It is the physiological changes in response to stress that can cause this risk. In the study, “A Model of Stress and Athletic Injury: Prediction and Prevention” Anderson and Williams state, “Many physiological changes occur during stress, but increases in generalized muscle tension (bracing) may be one of the mechanisms behind the stress-injury relationship. Generalized muscle tension can disturb motor coordination and reduce flexibility, thus contributing to strains, sprains, and other musculoskeletal injuries. A research issue that needs to be addressed is whether certain individuals will, under stress, exhibit greater increases in generalized muscle tension than others (e.g., high life stress vs. low life stress subjects), and whether these “tenser” persons are more likely to become injured. During stress, narrowing of the visual field may occur, leading to a failure to pick up vital cues in the periphery and thus increasing the likelihood of injury (e.g., getting blind-sided). Also, attention may become scattered under stress, causing the athlete to attend to stimuli not relevant to the task at hand and thus failing to detect vital cues.”
Obviously, in the sport of running, getting blind-sided may not be pressing concern, but certainly could be in other contact sports. Regardless of sport, extra anxiety causing muscular tension, disengagement causing room for error, or in an anxiety prone-can’t-sleep- athlete, such as myself, lack of sleep affecting recovery, this unneeded stress can be a real damper on an athlete’s season, especially if leading to injury.However, it is nearly impossible to not be “stressed out”– and honestly stress isn’t always bad. (Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend) (totally an excuse to share one of my favorite TED talks)
It is more so how we cope with stress that will determine our body’s response. Again, limited research on this in a sport setting, but the study, “Psychosocial antecedents of athletic injury: the effects of life stress and social support on female collegiate gymnasts,” found that among gymnasts with low social support, high negative life events accounted for 6 to 12% of the injury variance outcome. No significant relationship between life stress and injury outcome was found among gymnasts in the high social support group. Petrie suggested that low social support increases one’s vulnerability to injury whereas high social support seems to provide some protection against injury. Similar results were reported by Patterson, Smith, Everett, and Ptacek (1998) with ballet dancers. Furthermore, they reported that negative life events accounted for 22 to 30% of the injury time-loss variance for athletes who were low in both social support and coping skills.”
So, social support in an athlete’s life is a proven way to help them better cope with stress, lessening the chance for injury. The study, “Psychological predictors of injury among elite athletes,” found that Among a subset of 233 uninjured athletes (116 female and 117 male),five mood dimensions (anger, confusion, fatigue, tension, depression) were significantly related to orthopedic incidents over the preceding 12 months, with each mood dimension explaining 6–7% of the variance.”
Creating a strong team environment, being a pair of listening ears, and helping instill confidence and skills to deal with stress could lessen chance for injury among athletes. Above all, the athlete should be enjoying what they are doing.
I am not suggesting that if all athletes suddenly become happy and stress free that they will never get injured, but I am suggesting that minimizing stress and maximizing coping skills could lessen the opportunity for them to become injured.
Andersen, Mark B., and Jean M. Williams. “A Model Of Stress And Athletic Injury: Prediction And Prevention.” Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology 10.3 (1988): 294-306. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 12 May 2016.
Galambos, S et al. “Psychological Predictors of Injury among Elite Athletes.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 39.6 (2005): 351–354. PMC. Web. 12 May 2016.
Petrie, T.A. “Psychosocial Antecedents Of Athletic Injury: The Effects Of Life Stress And Social Support On Female Collegiate Gymnasts.” Behavioral Medicine 18.3 (1992): 127-138. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 12 May 2016.