The psychology of injury (and taking my own advice)

I’m in the process of rehabilitating a troublesome ankle injury at the moment. That’s nothing out of the ordinary; I often see ankle injuries in my clinic. The thing is, this time round it’s *my* ankle. I went over on it while doing judo a few weeks ago, and it’s just not been behaving itself since.

When I talk about my own injuries, people often say “well, at least you know what you’re doing with it”. The truth is, I’m a terrible patient. Terribly impatient, in fact. I always want everything fixed *yesterday*, or at the very latest, by this afternoon, in time to go climbing. I sulk, I mope around, and if it didn’t hurt my ankle I’d probably find a wall to kick. I’m bad at sticking to the plan, I forget to do the rehab exercises, and I go back to training on it before it’s ready. I am not a good example.

And yet, while this is bad news for my ankle, it might be good news for my patients. I think it makes me a better osteopath.

Frustration is a big part of dealing with any injury or painful condition. Frustration with the simple things that we can’t do because of the pain; at the activities we miss out on; with the interference with work and social life. Frustration isn’t just an unfortunate side effect of being injured; it’s often a big part of the problem.

Depending on the severity of the injury and how long it’s been going on for, that can be accompanied by other emotions too. Irritability, anger, apathy, or denial are common. In some cases it can even bring on clinical depression. And if those issues aren’t being addressed, recovery is often compromised. Not only does a person’s mental state have a direct influence on the pain s/he experiences, but it’s hard to follow a rehabilitation plan if your heart isn’t in it.

This is why I think it’s important to spend time talking to patients about what they *can* do while they’re recovering, how they can safely work around their injury, and ways to stay involved in the activities that are important to them. In the case of chronic injuries, I’ll often talk about ways in which patients can modify their activities to put less stress on the injured area. We talk about the things they’d like to be able to do, and come up with a rehab plan that’s specific and relevant to them, that fits with their goals and their individual lifestyle. Often when patients don’t stick to a program they’ve been given, it’s not because they’re lazy or stubborn; it’s because the therapist is addressing the injury and not the person.

So, with that in mind, I’m off to rewrite the rehab plan for my ankle, and work in some cycling while the weather is nice.

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