From field to recovery: Navigating sports injuries
Sports injuries can range from the immediate impact of concussions to prolonged issues such as knee injuries. UTMB Health Primary Care Physician Dr. Stacy Leung emphasized the importance of expertise in every stage of care.
“It takes time to recover from concussions and everyone recovers on their own time. A history of concussions in the past increases risk for future concussions and may prolong the duration of recovery for subsequent concussions,” Dr. Leung said. ”Be sure to rest both mentally and physically and limit the use of electronic devices. The sooner and more often you rest, the sooner the brain can recover.”
Common signs of a concussion:
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems
- Sensitivity to light/noise
- Difficulty concentrating/remembering
- Low energy
- More emotional
Dr. Jeremy Somerson, a UTMB Health orthopedic specialist focusing on the shoulder and elbow, said if individuals sustain an injury on the field, it's crucial to follow the guidance of the on-site trainers and physicians.
“They are highly trained and qualified to provide the initial response. For subsequent care, especially concerning bone or joint injuries, it's important to consult with an orthopedic surgeon,” Dr. Somerson said. “If there's any concern for a concussion, the most important thing is to follow the immediate directions of the trainers and coaching staff. If there's any doubt, don't return to play on the same day.”
The extensive variety of surgeons with specialized training at UTMB ensures there's a sub-specialist for every kind of sports injury. Dr. Somerson emphasized that due to the frequency of surgeries, the UTMB orthopedics staff can connect patients with a specialist who's particularly knowledgeable about the individual’s specific injury.
“The most common sports injury I encounter with younger athletes is shoulder dislocations. This can be particularly detrimental for high-level athletes,” Dr. Somerson said. “Seeking a surgeon trained in sports medicine or shoulder surgery ensures that you receive the most appropriate and current treatment.”
Beyond the physical: The mental struggles of athletic injuries
Dr. Kimberly Gushanas, psychologist and professor with UTMB's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences said that when it comes to coping with sports injuries, it's vital for parents, athletes and medical teams to understand that an athlete's response to an injury can vary significantly.
Responses can vary from the immediate time after the injury to the period of recuperation. Their prior mental health status significantly impacts how they respond. Post-injury, existing mental health conditions can either come to the forefront or worsen.
“A student already grappling with depression, anxiety, or past trauma might find it more challenging to deal with an injury than one without such history,” Dr. Gushanas said. “This makes it essential for the community—treatment teams, teachers, coaches, family, and peers—to rally around these students. While some might bounce back from severe injuries, others can be deeply affected by even minor ones. Previous mental health challenges can hint at a potentially tougher recovery.”
One effective approach is ensuring the individual is well-informed about their injury, the recuperation process, any surgical interventions and what to expect post-recovery, Dr. Gushanas said.
“From a psychological standpoint, injured student-athletes often grapple with a sense of loss. Their identity is frequently intertwined with their sport, and an injury, even a temporary one, can feel like grief. Recognizing and validating this feeling is crucial,” Dr. Gushanas said. “For tangible coping strategies, it's beneficial for students to revisit what has helped them during past challenges. This could mean spending more time with loved ones, exploring new hobbies, or even volunteering in sports-related activities. Encouraging them to stay active and involved, without risking further injury, can foster a sense of purpose during recovery.”
Many top athletes and elite sports teams prioritize the expertise of psychologists, as highlighted by the team psychologist's pivotal role in the popular show, "Ted Lasso."
“It's worth noting that in sports, there's less stigma around accessing mental health resources. While it may not always be clinical treatment as we traditionally think of it, psychology is deeply linked with performance. It's essential to remind student-athletes that consulting a psychologist is standard practice in professional sports,” Dr. Gushanas said. “If they face challenges, they should be encouraged to seek help rather than just ‘pushing through.’ Recognizing this can lead to better coping during an injury, ultimately enhancing their prowess post-recovery.”
Some athletes have a difficult time coping with severe injuries, especially those prone to recurrence. The anticipation of pain goes beyond the physical and delves into profound psychological realms.
“Often, kids are told that it's ‘all in their head’ or to ‘just move past it.’ However, such sentiments oversimplify the relationship between our brain, nervous system and emotional states. The ability to process and deal with pain is also a psychological experience that many children and adults struggle with.”
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