Persistent injury in sport

The toll of persistent injury

Persistent injury in sport

Rugby player Dave Attwood talked about the toll of persistent injury in The Guardian today. This is likely to be one of the greatest fears of any sports person, particularly for professionals with a career at stake, and who identify with their game.

The physical nature of the training and the sport itself, particularly considering the extent of contact in rugby, both present a risk of injury. This would be accepted by players, with pain being part of the deal. It is expected and perhaps even revered as a demonstration of commitment. No pain, no gain continues as a philosophy.

Then we have pain that persists, which gradually begins to intrude into the player’s attention at inappropriate times. Thinking about pain rather than the game will inevitably affect performance and outcome. Beyond the white lines, the pain seeping into day to day life takes the suffering to a new level. This is a typical story for chronic pain. A sequence of priming events akin to a kindling fire, building and building along a timeline.

Not only does the player need to deal with the pain itself and the day to day rehabilitation, he or she also has to cope with a shift in their role. All of the above are ample causes of suffering, which can take its toll on anyone. We are all vulnerable to a greater or lesser degree. And this is why the modern understanding of pain and injury is so important across society, including professional sport. The biomedical model does not provide any long-term solutions to persistent pain, yet it continues to predominate in both arenas. This must change.

In sport, acute care is usually very good. However, identifying players who could be at higher risk of developing chronic symptoms should be a routine part of screening. Medical teams in sport need to be armed with knowledge allowing them to identify the factors the pre-exist but also be aware of characteristics of the acute injury that may heighten the risks; early, uncontrolled pain for example.

Dave Attwood: ‘Compulsory counselling for long-term injuries will stop stigma’ 

Attwood suggests that counselling should be compulsory. He acknowledges that not everyone will persist with this kind of input, however relevant it might be for that person. The opportunity to talk about the effects of an on-going injury would offer a non-judgmental arena of safety for players to express fears and worries. If players were also educated about persistent pain and injury, they would realise that a change in emotional state and thinking is typical, thereby reducing the stigma. Of course, the stigma arises from the existing culture that is misinformed when it comes to pain. Much of the education enabling pain to be understood would be very similar in content to that of a modern pain management programme.

To see a high profile player speaking out about the issue of persistent injury will hopefully encourage others to seek the right kind of help. Dealing effectively with on-going pain is a specialist area that requires a comprehensive approach that addresses all aspects of the experience. Medical teams may need to call upon external specialists to work with them for particular players. This is something that I have done and it works very well, particularly because professional clubs typically have great facilities and staff who you work with to cover all angles: strength and conditioning, diet, sports doctors, physios, massage therapists etc. But, it all starts with understanding pain.

‘Pain and injury are not the same and they are not well related’

To understand pain means that you know what you must focus upon, without fear, to achieve results. In managing painful moments and seeking to overall overcome the pain problem, it takes dedicated practice, encouraged by positive coaching. The content of the practice varies according to the nature of the problem and the necessary approach. That is for the specialist to decide and communicate with the player and medical team.  The Pain Coach Programme that I designed is commonly a blend of sensorimotor training, mobilisations of different types, skills of being well, and practices that bolster resilience, focus and hence performance. This sits in with input from other fields, very much embracing teamwork with the player’s best interests at the heart. A typical aim is to achieve greater than pre-injury performance.

The coverage of on-going injuries is typically negative from the press, fans, the team and the club. Instead there must be understanding, compassion and encouragement. The right conditions for recovery must be created, easing the pressure off the player so that he or she can truly focus on their job of the moment, getting better. So, well done Dave Attwood and The Guardian for raising the issue, another example of chronic pain in society. It is time for change.

  • Pain Coach Programme — for players suffering persistent or recurring injuries and pain
  • Pain Coach Mentoring & Workshops for clinicians and therapists who want to build their skills and knowledge in chronic pain
  • Pain Coach Workshops for medical teams

t. 07518 445493 or e. [email protected]

Richmond M. Stace MSc (Pain) BSc Phty BSc (Hons) PGDN | Specialist Pain Physiotherapist, Pain Coach, Clinical Lecturer (MSc Sports Medicine @ Queen Mary’s University London) & Entrepaineur. 

Blended with my clinical work and workshops is the Understand Pain social enterprise that has the purpose of driving social change with regards pain, the number one global health burden.

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