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Lockdown vs the injured athlete

Written by Isabel Woods (MSc Student at St. Mary's University, Twickenham)

If you told me a year ago that I would be locked up in my house worrying about whether there is any toilet paper left in the shops, then I would have told you you were crazy. Over the past few months, the world has adapted to a new normal. Some people have taken it in their stride; however others have really struggled with the fact that their lives have been put on hold. But how can we take this negative situation and turn it into a positive experience? I have come to the realisation that we are all injured from our busy lives, awaiting the all clear from the doctor to tell us we can resume and get back to ‘normal’. I have explored how lockdown has given an insight into what it can really feel like to be an injured athlete.

Taking part in any sport or physical activity comes with the risk of injury. From a parkrun, to playing in the Champions League final, something may happen that is out of your control and may lead to a serious and painful injury. The type of injuries that I am referring to in this post are the ones that often result in surgery, which require a long period of recovery and uncertainty. No athlete plans to be injured and so it can be a massive shock to the system when they find themselves being stretchered off into an ambulance during a game. Not only do injuries take their toll on your physical ability, but they also present us with an array of psychological stressors.

Here are 5 steps that may help you cope with the psychological effects of injury: (I have also related these steps to life in lockdown)

1. Accept reality

As an injured athlete you experience a range of emotions and so it is important to be realistic about your situation. You don’t want to end up rushing back to sport when you are not ready. Take time to plan for recovery and make both short- and long-term goals.

Whilst in lockdown many people have been in denial about the situation, and not following government rules. But it is important to follow the guidance and make goals accordingly.

2. Treat recovery like training

As an injured athlete it is easy to fall out of routine as you are unable to train as normal, however it is important to treat your rehabilitation process just like training. Sports and performance psychologist Chris Carr encourage athletes to “try to see rehabilitation as a form of training, rather than merely an impediment in your athletic career”.

In lockdown, treat your days just like you would normally. Although you may not be working, try to follow your normal routine as best as possible so that you can transition back to normal when the time comes.

3. Understanding your hot cross bun

What is my hot cross bun you may ask? This model below shows what your hot cross bun is made up of:


A good understanding of your current situation as an injured athlete can raise self-awareness. Learn how your cognitions, emotions, physical state, and behaviours all interact with one another. How can you manage all these factors to reduce stress and negative emotions? One way to do these could be through the use of relaxation techniques.

The same can be said for coping in lockdown. How are you managing these four factors given the current situation? Have they changed recently? Why? For better or for worse? It is useful to take a holistic approach when identifying how you feel and the reason behind your behaviours, to increase self-awareness.

4. Report pain and discomfort

When injured you may have pains that you have not experienced before and therefore it is important to record/track how you are feeling throughout the process. Talk to someone about it, whether it is your coach, physio, or doctor. It is good to talk to various people to get different opinions. By reporting pain, you may be offered ways to ease or fight it off.

It is likely that you have experienced high levels of stress or loneliness in lockdown and so it is vital that you recognise your social support around you. We are all experiencing this together and so I can guarantee you are not the only one with negative emotions at the moment. Remember: a problem shared is a problem halved!

5. Finally - Embrace the time off!

Being an injured athlete can give you the opportunity to reflect on aspects of your career/performance that you may wish to improve on or change. This period of rehabilitation can bring things to light that you may have ignored previously. You are also given the opportunity to push yourself more than ever!

Many of us can admit that we have been bored in lockdown! However, we have been able to do things that we may have not had the chance to do in our normal busy lives. Complete a puzzle. Go for a bike ride. Read a book. Take up a new hobby. The list is ongoing. Many of these activities are great for maintaining a good mental state during this period of uncertainty.

It is important for coaches and employers to consider these steps when an athlete becomes injured, or when there is a global pandemic! I have found that the experience of being in lockdown has given a taste of what life is like to be an injured athlete. Feeling isolated, having impatience, worthlessness, and a loss of identity. It has been interesting to identify a crossover and I hope that these few steps may be helpful to those athletes who are injured, or anyone who has struggled with life in lockdown.