Psychological Impact of Sport Injury


Many people grow up playing sports, and some continue to participate in high school and college. Others become professional athletes, spending their entire lives to be the top athlete. While millions of people are participating in athletics in the United States, it is common to suffer injuries during practice or competition. According to Stop Sports Injuries, it is estimated that there are 2 million high school sports injuries each year.

Dr. Shelly T. Sheinbein, Ph.D. is a doctoral intern at Northwestern University Counseling and Psychological Services, she states there are an estimated seven million sport and recreation-related injuries per year, not including sports injuries that may go unreported. Some injuries require the athlete take the entire season off for high school and college students, and few other injuries would end a professional athlete’s career.

It’s more than an injury

For a lot of players, the sport they play provides them self-esteem, friends, stress relief, and realistic goals. Therefore, if the injury keeps them from participating the sports athletes will experience a wide range of emotions. Recovery time differ depending on the injury. Sheinbein reveals the psychological impact is usually greater when they require longer rehabilitation. It is common for athletes to feel discouraged and stressed after an injury. Some common emotional responses during their recovery include anger, sadness, depression, sleeping problems,  lack of motivation, and loss of appetite. These symptoms could be associated with loss of athletic identity such as loss of skills and practices and feeling socially isolated.

Re-injury anxiety is a common psychological response for injured athletes. Especially for those with a torn ligament in the knee. They often feel anxious returning to sports as they fear they might re-injure themselves. Athletes who had a serious injury such as ACL reconstruction surgery often times develop a hesitance or a favoritism to the  injured areas when returning to practice. The anxiety of re-injury affects the performance, many feel frustrated to regain ability.

The culture of sports

It is uncommon for athletes to open up about their mental health. Many athletes see mental health as a sign of weakness, so they usually keep it to themselves. Also, some are worried that mental illnesses will impact their selection on the team along with affecting their relationships between coaches and teammates. Athletes are used to “play through the pain” sports culture, assuming their mental illnesses will heal by itself.

Victoria Garrick, a volleyball player at USC surveyed college athletes in the United States. 79% of the athletes answered yes to mental health in athletes is a neglected topic.

Another survey done by Victoria Garrick, it shows more than 50% of students says they have experienced depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder but are too afraid to tell anyone.

Athletes need support

A mental illness, especially after an injury, isn’t something to take lightly. Hiding emotions isn’t a solution, athletes must seek the help they need. If mental illnesses are left untreated, the disorder can often worsen as time goes by. The better the mindset that athletes are in after an injury can also speed up the recovery process. Depressive symptoms can affect the recovery time after a serious injury. The healthier the mind, the quicker the athlete will recover from the injury.



Andy Murray

Andy Murray is a professional tennis player from Scotland. He retired from tennis after experiencing depression, anxiety and profound stress due to his hip injury.  ‘You have to be open and honest about your thoughts and the feelings you have. If you don’t, and you lie about things to make yourself look stronger and tougher, it’s pointless,’ shares Murray who talks openly about his mental health.

Larry Sanders

Larry Sanders was an American NBA Basketball Player. He sat out for the 2013-2014 season because of his injuries; he was dealing with depression, anxiety, and mood swings. In 2015, he walked out of the NBA to get treatment for his mental illnesses.

Shelly Doyle is one of the few people that openly discussed her depression after her surgery. This video helped me particularly after my surgery. She shares about how she overcomes her injury and reminds others that they are not alone.

Call to Action


The video above is made by the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan sees many athletes are afraid to speak up about mental illnesses, so they partnered with NCAA and created Athletes Connected. Their Athletes Connected program is a safe environment for athletes to get the help and support athletes need. Having a program such as Athletes Connected which offers health-promoting environments for injured athletes can be very beneficial for many athletes. Creating more awareness in schools and universities is extremely important.

All athletes need to recognize that sharing about their mental illnesses does not make them less of an athlete. A real athlete will be honest and get the support they needed to become a better athlete in the long run.


The culture athletes are living makes it harder to open up about mental health. When someone is physically injured, we can see that; but when someone is suffering mentally, no one can see that. Hence, it is up to the athlete to decide to get help or not. We need to make a change as a society to break the stigma of mental health, so mental health will be easier for everyone to open up. Athletes cannot be seeing mental illness as a sign of weakness. The more athletes are open to share and seek support will encourage many more athletes to do the same.

You can still become a strong athlete with a mental health issue. Mental health and psychological wellbeing are equally important. There is a large silent population of athletes today that do not have the courage to talk about their mental illnesses. The stigma of mental health needs to be broken; the conversation of mental health needs to be louder and to be heard.


Made with Padlet
Works Cited:

McClay, Michael H., and Eugene E. Levitt. “The Psychological Effects of Sports Injuries.” Journal of Hand Therapy: Official Journal of the American Society of Hand Therapists, vol. 4, no. 2, Elsevier, Apr. 1991, pp. 83–85.

Advanced Solutions International, Inc. Statistics. Accessed 12 Apr. 2019.

rpowell. “Mind, Body and Sport: How Being Injured Affects Mental Health.” – The Official Site of the NCAA, 5 Nov. 2014,

“The Psychological Effects of Injury – The UK’s Leading Sports Psychology Website.” The UK’s Leading Sports Psychology Website, 26 Oct. 2015,

Sheinbein, Shelly. “Psychological Effect of Injury on the Athlete: A Recommendation for Psychological Intervention.” AMAA Journal, vol. 29, no. 3, American Running & Fitness Association, 2016, pp. 8–11.

Tripp, Dean A., et al. “Fear of Reinjury, Negative Affect, and Catastrophizing Predicting Return to Sport in Recreational Athletes with Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries at 1 Year Postsurgery.” Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, vol. 1, no. S, Aug. 2011, pp. 74–81.

Dear Coach: This Is Who I Am. Accessed 13 Apr. 2019.

“Female Athlete after Workout Sitting in Locker Room. by BONNINSTUDIO – Football, Locker Room – Stocksy United.” Stocksy United, Accessed 14 Apr. 2019.

“The Invisible Competition: Mental Health Within Athletics.” Mental Health America, 26 Feb. 2019,

Custom Sports Apparel, Uniforms, and Accessories | Accessed 13 Apr. 2019.

Cohn, Patrick. Maintain Confidence After an Injury | Sports Psychology Articles. 26 Apr. 2018,

ACL Injuries in the Adolescent Female The Melbourne Sports Medicine Centre. Accessed 12 Apr. 2019.

Share this project
  1. April 25, 2019 by Camille Neutz

    Wow! This is supper interesting idea that you are working with in this project. It is interesting how you connect it back to the larger culture that have evolved around sports. This least me to question, how can we change this culture? Or is it even possible to change this culture?

    • April 25, 2019 by Alyssa.Chang

      Thank you for your comment! I think the culture of sport is hard to change. However, that doesn’t mean the change is impossible. I personally find social media extremely powerful in spreading awareness and changing the sports culture. For example, professional athletes opening up about their mental illnesses to their fans via social media, or anyone who share their own experiences through YouTube. I think more people sharing their struggles with mental illnesses will help many others feel safe to do the same. This change will take time, but it definitely is possible!

  2. April 25, 2019 by Karin.Noskova

    It was enriching to read your page. You really raised an important issue that not a lot of people talk about. My cousin have had a very similar experience. She had played handball for a long time, but had to untertake a heart surgery. Handball means so much to her – a way of fulfillment and way to socialize as well. Luckily, she managed to recover and continue playing handball, but her recovery was very a difficult period for her. I believe if we as a society talked about it more, atheletes who are currently recovering could get a bigger support.

    • May 04, 2019 by Alyssa.Chang

      Thank you! I’m sure your cousin became a stronger person after going through a similar experience. I’m so happy to hear she is able to continue to play what she loves! I truly believe mental health is as important as physical health. I hope to see changes in how athletes view mental illnesses and hear more conversations about the mental health of injured athletes.

  3. April 26, 2019 by Chloe.Smith-Frank

    Hi Alyssa,
    I loved your presentation and I’m a huge Andy Murray fan, so I’m so happy you included him as an example! I was wondering if over the course of your research, you came to a conclusion about whether social media usually helps injured athletes mentally recover or can make their depression/anxiety worse? At my school, we’re always told that social media fosters unhealthy comparisons, but maybe there’s a way for athletes to find online support communities as well? What do you think?

    • May 04, 2019 by Alyssa.Chang

      Hi! I’m glad that you enjoyed my presentation! Yes, that is a very good question! As much as social media can help to raise awareness there are negative effects of social media.
      During my stay in the hospital, watching videos of others’ experiences and reading encouraging texts from my friends allowed me to be more positive. However, when I see my friends posting pictures of their vacation or their sports team on social media, I would immediately get unmotivated and upset. In the world we live in today, it is hard to not compare ourselves to others. Social media only shows the highlight of people’s lives. Therefore, it is important that we are using social media for the right purpose.
      Social media isn’t for everyone, so it is also important to create communities where athletes feel comfortable to share their struggles and experiences. As mentioned in my presentation, Athletes Connected in the University of Michigan is the kind of program that helps many athletes to get the support they need. Face to face interaction can often be more valuable than online interaction, so I wish to see more program like those on campus.

  4. May 01, 2019 by Sarah Eichler

    Hey Alyssa! I think that this is a really important topic that isn’t talked about enough. In sports, just one injury can take a player away from their sport for months, which can have very serious consequences. I recently had an injury that has taken me out of dance for months, and has made me hesitant to start fully again. Why do you think that mental illness from an injury has such a stigma and what do you think can be done to get rid of the stigma? Should this be something talked about in high schools?

    • May 13, 2019 by Alyssa.Chang

      Hi Sarah! I am sorry about your injury. Injuries are unavoidable when you participate in sports. There is a stigma on mental health in sports because athletes are taught to be tough both physically and mentally, so they assume sharing their feelings will make them look weak. In order to get rid of the stigma, we need to raise awareness so athletes feel comfortable to open up and seek help. This is definitely something that should be talked about in high school. Especially in sports teams, it is important to ensure the safety of athletes but the mental health of athletes is just as important.

  5. May 01, 2019 by Ami.Adachi

    Hey Alyssa!! I also agree with you that the psychological impact of sport injuries is a topic that should be more widely known and talked about because sports injuries is a widespread problem and it is hard for people to talk about their mental health and reach out for help no matter what the scenario is. I really like how you included a page where people could share their experiences because it gives a chance for people who are afraid to talk in person a different opportunity to tell and share their feelings that they’re experiencing. Did you experience any kind of psychological impact when you suffered from your sports injury? If so, how did you reach out to others for help, and if you didn’t reach out for help, would you have done anything differently if you could go back to that time?

    • May 21, 2019 by Alyssa.Chang

      Hi Ami! Thank you so much! I feel discouraged right after my surgery and it got worse day by day. I personally did not reach out to others since I was so disappointed at myself. My friend’s sister who had a similar injury reached out to me, and she shared her experience. Seeing her being so positive about the injury helped me change my perspective. Even if I could go back, I do not think I would be able to reach out for help. I think after such injury, reaching out is extremely hard. That is the reason why I hope to see a community where people showing empathy and support to those who are affected by their injury. Through my presentation, I hope to encourage and remind injured athletes that they are not alone and it is normal to feel what they feel.

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