Sports injuries affect athletes’ motivation

by David Anderson

After months of physical therapy and with many more to come, student-athletes can lose the motivation to push on with their healing process, said Diane Wiese-Bjornstal, a University associate professor of kinesiology.
The emotional toll student-athletes suffer when incurring one of the most common types of knee injuries can be enough to hinder physical rehabilitation, she said.
The number of injuries involving damage to the anterior cruciate ligament, one of the knee’s main structures, rises every year among young athletes, she said. This ligament allows the knee to twist and turn, motions essential in sports such as football, basketball and soccer, said Susan Schwenz, who is currently researching the subject for her dissertation.
Although these injuries are common, there generally are no counseling programs to support the athletes before and after surgery.
“My long-range interest and goal would be to set up an interdisciplinary graduate program that would better prepare students to counsel student-athletes,” said Wiese-Bjornstal, who has supervised studies on the link between physical and psychological effects of such injuries since 1994, focusing on student-athletes’ mood swings that follow knee surgery.
Wiese-Bjornstal said some student-athletes fear that sitting out games or entire athletic seasons to allow their knees to heal might threaten their University scholarships.
“(Disregarding injuries) is the normative culture of sport: You will play hurt, you will play injured,” Wiese-Bjornstal said. “There is no question in my mind that there is pressure, even at the younger level.”
The medical director for men’s and women’s athletics said University athletes aren’t allowed to play while injured.
“I personally don’t let my athletes return to sports with an ACL injury, with perhaps exceptions made if you are a pure runner or swimmer,” said Dr. Elizabeth Arendt, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery. “Playing through injuries is not what we advocate.”
In an essay to educate patients with ACL injuries, Dr. Robert LaPrade said about 70 percent of people with serious ACL deficiencies will develop significant arthritis 10 years after their injuries.
Student-athletes typically wear a knee immobilizer in earlier stages of ACL knee reconstruction, LaPrade said. Recovering athletes can begin basic strengthening such as jogging or running three months into the process and return to sports five to seven months after the surgery, Arendt said.
Mike Morrey and Eric LaMott, two former graduate students, completed their doctoral dissertations on the subject in 1994 and 1997.
Recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery involves extensive physical therapy and keeps competitive athletes away from courts and fields often longer than they like, according to these studies.
But student-athletes have to deal with more and more pressure, causing an undeniable psychological impact, Wiese-Bjornstal said.
Recovering student-athletes become frustrated, bored and have trouble maintaining physical intensity to which they are accustomed, according to the research.
As a consequence, young athletes bound back onto the field or court and use their knees before they have fully recovered, Wiese-Bjornstal said.
Some high-school and college athletes undergo multiple ACL surgeries by the time they graduate, she said.
“We should be very concerned about this,” Wiese-Bjornstal said. “Particularly with young students.”