Odds are, if you played sports growing up you experienced an injury that somehow shaped who you are today. In fact, the most significant complication arising from previous injuries often isn’t the injury itself, but the mental shift that takes place after.
Years later, the healing has taken place but the thoughts and feelings surrounding the injury still shape our actions.
You develop feelings of doubt, that things can never be the same. FOMO (fear of missing out) becomes real. You give up on activities that you used to love due to fear of re-aggravating the injured area. You convince yourself that you have a bad knee (back, shoulder, etc) and that nothing can be done. You become your injury.
The self defeating cycle becomes exacerbated in the following ways:
Avoiding activity due to fear of re-aggravation keeps us in the pain/injury cycle. Research has shown that movement and pain get mapped along similar pathways in the brain. This means that following an injury your brain will remember the movements that caused you pain.
In short, avoiding a movement because we fear it will be painful actually increases the amount of pain we experience, regardless of actual tissue irritation.
Individuals who believe an activity will be painful have been shown to have reduced performance abilities (1). When we convince ourselves we have a bad knee, shoulder, back we set ourselves up for failure.
The fear and doubt can come from a variety of sources. It can be developed internally through our own emotion and feelings. It can be unintentionally worsened by our doctors or stories from family and friends. Regardless, the end result is that our injury slowly begins to define who we are. We become self conscious about agreeing to a hike with the family because we’re scared we'll be the one slowing everybody down. We’re the person who used to play basketball with friends. At family functions we fade into the background because we’re convinced we’re the uncle with the ‘bad back.’
Our message to those who suffered a major injury many years ago: Don’t let you injury define you. Refuse to be a victim of circumstance. That ACL surgery in high school sucks, probably even caused some compensatory movements that you're still dealing with, but it's not who you are. Strengthening and retraining the body after an injury takes work, but it is entirely possible. Convince yourself that you are capable. Build trust in your body by progressively challenging it in controlled situations. Take control.
You are not your injury, you are a person. How you recover and perform moving forward is up to you.
Lackner JM, Carosella AM, Feurstein M. Pain expectancies, pain, and functional self efficiency expectancies as determinants of disabilities in patients with chronic low back pain disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psych 1996;64:212-220.