Stress fractures are some of the slowest-healing and most disruptive sports injuries around. These painful bone injuries are often seen in athletes who participate in endurace sports such as running or triathlon or other high-impact activities such as football or cheerleading. Typical medical protocol, depending on severity and placement of the fracture is a minimum of six weeks and sometimes longer. The layoff from activity can be quite difficult for the athlete; therefore I will propose some suggestions for mental management and recovery from stress fractures.
Note: The following is recommended to be included alongside a medically supervised recovery and treatment plan. If you suspect a stress fracture, obtain proper medical advice.
The Early Stages/Post Diagnosis:
- Take some time to be upset, angry, remorseful. Allowing yourself to go through the emotions; which can resemble the grief process is normal. What is not normal, however, is taking the emotions out on others.
- Learn about your injury, healing time and techniques, and how to return to activity. Use this information to help objectify the experience.
- Take a forward-looking approach. Avoid playing the"whodunnit?" game that offers little concrete answers.
- Think of other positives in your life and other things to focus on while you heal.
- REST-take time to recharge and repair the mind and body.
2-6 Weeks Post-Diagnosis:
- After receiving medical clearance, begin crosstraining. This often relieves depression related to the injury and lowers stress levels. Athletes often have difficulty with cessation of activity and this provides active coping.
- Visualize healing. An example is picturing your fracture becoming whole again (Porter, 2003). Imagery can be a powerful healing tool
- Set short term-goals. For example, getting the pain from a 6/10 to a 4/10 in 5 days.
After receiving medical clearance for activity:
- Acknowledge any anxiety you may be experiencing about re-injury-talk to a coach, teammate, or sports psychology professional if needed.
- Continue to set short-term goals for returning to full participation
- For Runners: Run on assigned days, on non-running days-don't think about running and focus on other activities, including cross training.
- Use positive self-talk when you have doubts.
- Assess your progress at the end of each week and focus on how much you've accomplished vs. how far you have to go.
Throughout the healing process, try and get 8 hours of sleep and eat nutritious foods that are hight in protein, magnesium, and calcium. Examples include almonds, lean meats, chickpeas, and yogurt.
While recovery is often far from perfect, staying mentally focused and strong during the healing process can make it much more bearable and get an athlete back on the field or track stronger and more focused.
Porter, K. The Mental Athlete. Human Kinetics. 2003.