Psychological Responses During Injury Recovery

When injuries occur, several factors can influence the rehabilitation process and ultimately return to activity. It’s no secret that the physical aspect of injury recovery is important. This aspect is typically what most people think of during the injury recovery process. Another important component, that may get overlooked, is the psychological aspect of recovery. It’s critical to have an understanding of psychological responses that are associated with injury to successfully recover and return to activity. In order to accomplish this, it’s important to develop strategies to help promote positive responses and combat negative responses.

Psychological Responses

Everyone responds to injuries differently and presents a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses. Essentially, cognitive responses relate to how someone thinks, emotional responses relate to how someone feels, and behavioral responses relate to what someone does. Positive and negative psychological responses to injury are very large research areas. More specifically, research has shown that positive responses to injury recovery are linked to having a higher chance of retuning to activity. On the other end, research has also shown that negative responses to recovery, negatively impact recovery and ultimately return to activity. 1,2

Positive Responses

  • Confidence
  • Motivation
  • Low Fear

Negative Responses

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Decreased Confidence

Combatting Negative Responses

There are several techniques to help combat the negative responses that occur during the injury recovery process. Three popular technqiues that are used include goal setting, imagery, and relaxation. These techniques have the potential to positively impact your recovery by helping you return to activity as quickly and safely as possible.

Goal Setting

Developing short-term and long-term goals can help maintain motivation during the recovery process. When setting goals, it’s beneficial to use the SMART goal technique. Ideally, we want to set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely (SMART). This allows for improvement in focus, mood, self-satisfaction and self-efficacy.3

An example of a goal that doesn’t use the SMART goal technique would be, “I will do my rehabilitation exercises every week.” This is a great start to setting goals but take it a step further and set a goal such as, “I will do my rehabilitation exercises every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before I go to work at 9:00am.”


Simply put, imagery is the process of creating an experience in the mind. Imagery can be used to increase performance, confidence, and focus. Various types of imagery have also shown to help manage pain, increase self-efficacy, and maintain motivation. Motivational imagery, healing imagery, and relaxation imagery are a few examples that have been discussed.

  • Motivational imagery involves envisioning your overall goal.
  • Healing imagery involves visualizing the healing process occurring in your body. 
  • Relaxation imagery involves visualizing anything that will relax and put you at ease. 

When using imagery, it’s important to make sure that it’s positive and routinely practiced.3


Relaxation techniques have shown to help reduce pain associated with the injury recovery process and regulate emotions. Common relaxation techniques that are used include breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation. These relaxation techniques can help promote focus and relieve any anxiousness.3

  • The breathing technique focuses on counts, inhales and exhales, and rhythmic breathing.
  • There are various techniques that can be used for progressive muscle relaxation. The purpose of this technique is to train muscle groups to become sensitive to levels of tension and release that tension.
  • Lastly, meditation aims to accomplish a state of relaxation by focusing on words, phrases, and breathing.

Ultimately, these techniques allow for a sense of feeling calm and centered.

EvoLab’s Role in Injury Recovery

Monitoring your EvoLab can also play a role in the recovery process. More specifically, the Base Fitness Metric can play a role during recovery. This metric can be used for day-to-day and long-term monitoring. The Base Fitness Metric is centered around your training load over a 6-week timeframe. While recovering from an injury, this metric can be used to potentially track progress over time. It will also allow you to see if you are pushing yourself too much, too little, or if you are right where you need to be.

Chart showing Base Fitness

Several other metrics in the EvoLab can be used to monitor your recovery as well. Check out the Overreaching vs. Overtraining post to see a complete breakdown of each metric and how they can play a role.


At the end of the day, dealing with an injury and going through the recovery process isn’t easy. There are several factors that come into play that can affect overall progress and everyone reacts differently. When dealing with the pscyhological factor, we want to combat the negative responses and encourage the positive responses. To ensure you have the best outcome possible, try the techniques and begin monitoring your EvoLab. It’s also important to note that these techniques are not just for injury recovery, they are also helpful for enhancing overall performance!

Michelle Singleton
Michelle Singleton

Michelle has a diverse background in the exercise and sport science world. She is currently finishing her PhD focusing on Human and Sport Performance, with additional backgrounds in athletic training and nutrition. In addition to this, she is a certified and licensed athletic trainer, personal trainer, and educator. She utilizes her extensive education and clinical experience in athletic training, nutrition, and exercise science to help guide and educate others.


1. Ardern CL, Taylor NF, Feller JA, Webster KE. A systematic review of the psychological factors associated with returning to sport following injury. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013;47(17):1120-1126.

2. Ivarsson A, Tranaeus U, Johnson U, Stenling A. Negative psychological responses of injury and rehabilitation adherence effects on return to play in competitive athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. 2020(1):27.

3. Madrigal L. Psychological Skills for Injury Prevention and Recovery. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal. 2015;23(2):79-84.

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