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

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 plays an important role in rehabilitation, particularly for sports where there are greater time pressures to return the athlete to optimal peak peformance as quickly as posisble. 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

Of the five factors, goal-setting is the most first important in that it must first be established clearly and be in place before hand. 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 int he “theater of the mind”.

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

Positive Self-talk

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


Relaxation training is a psychological tool that is recommended for use with injured athletes during rehabilitation in conjuction with the 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 team-mates, coaches, and the therapists. Social support is believe to be effective in helping the athlete make a better appraisal of their situation (towards a positive imagery) and through the emotional adjustment process.

In the next article in this series, Mind and Body (II) – Mental Goals for Sports Injury Rehabilitation , we will have a look at 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.



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