Coping with Injuries

and the role it can play in mental health

It is no secret how possessing a positive outlook on life plays a vital role in maintaining your body’s health- both mentally and physically. However, maintaining a positive outlook in the midst of a world that is largely out of our control is not always easy. For many of our patients who are in the midst of rehabilitation and recovering from various injuries, maintaining that positive outlook can be even harder.

Beyond the physical effects, getting injured can impact one’s mental health in a lot of ways. Whether you’re an athlete, a casual exerciser, a child, or someone who is aging and realizes that their body does not work in the same capacity that it has for many years, injuries can be devastating.

“Orthopedic injuries are typically traumatic and life-altering, so we try to guide our patients through the process and tell them that God has a plan for them and that this is a part of His plan for their lives,” said Dr. Chad Hosemann, a surgeon at Capital Ortho. “You don’t typically choose to see an orthopedic surgeon unless something is wrong, so often times when we see our patients they already feel sad, unsure, and vulnerable.”

According to The National Institute for Mental Health, one of the most life-altering experiences that people with injuries have to cope with is the realization that they are not always in control of their outcomes. This is especially true for injured athletes. For many of us, this realization can lead to a feeling of being lost. For young people, who tend to already have feelings of invincibility, it can be a sobering to realize the scope of our body’s limitations.

In addition to the pain that comes with the initial injury, recovering from surgery, going through therapy, and getting back to each individual’s sense of normal can feel daunting at times. In our busy, on-the-go lifestyles, the recovery period that involves slowing down and allowing your body to rest can lead to idle thoughts, loneliness, and even depression.

The frustration that comes with recovery is often exacerbated outside of therapy settings and intensified in the places we should feel the most safe – our homes. Limitations like not being able to pour your own cup of coffee, put a contact in your eye, get up and down stairs, put on clothes by yourself, exercise like you used to, or even drive leaves many people feeling frustrated and like a burden.

“Healing takes on many aspects; whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual or mental,” said Dr. Bradley Kellum, a surgeon at Capital Ortho. “We have seen time and time again how maintaining a positive outlook during the injury and recovery process leads to better short term and long term outcomes.”

But what if you’re not recovering from an injury? Although we know it’s a fact that none of us are getting younger each day, we are not exactly jumping for joy at the thought of getting older, either. For many adults, they can begin to feel “old” when they suffer from regular joint pain or are unable to do things they have always enjoyed doing. These realizations can affect mental and physical health for years before seeking treatment.

There have been numerous studies compiled on the role that physical activity plays in mental and physical health. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety and depression, and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Unfortunately, recovering from injuries can lead to a cessation some physical activity until recovery. Limiting physical exercise can lead to weight gain, general tiredness or feelings of sadness for many.

“I’ve seen how hard it is for some patients to recover and the amount of work it takes to do rehab with orthopedic injuries,” said Dr. Matt Futvoye, a surgeon at Capital Ortho. “We each try to encourage our patients and give them the time to be heard and to know that their feelings are validated. We also encourage them that it will get better.”

At the end of the day – whether you are recovering from an injury or experiencing other joint issues – gaining perspective can make all the difference. While it may not feel like it, it is important to remember that what is in the present does not mean that it will always be a part of the future. Even if the injury itself has chronic tendencies, patients can find ways to improve and regain their physical health.  It will, and it does, get better.

Remember, although injuries and ongoing pain are often an unwelcome detour in the road of our every day lives, seeking treatment, remaining dedicated to therapy, and maintaining a optimistic outlook are integral to recovery, both physically and mentally.