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Injury, Illness, and Stress

This article describes the relationship between injury, illness, and stress.

Injury, Illness, and Stress

Keep in mind that stress can have detrimental effects on the body and is closely related to pain, injury, and illness. Stress weakens immunity, and physical stress weakens muscles and joints. It can cause immediate symptoms, including a runny nose, tears, a twitchy eye or face, sweating, trembling, and a greatly increased or decreased appetite. Some people get stomach and gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, cramps, and nausea. Vomiting, hives, and severe headaches are also quite common.

Body Responses to Stress

Immediate Response Long-Term Response
Sweating Illness
Twitching Chronic fatigue
Crying Fibromyalgia
Tremors Asthma
Nausea Neck and shoulder pain
Vomiting Back pain
Itchiness Trouble falling asleep
Headache High blood pressure
Stomach cramps New medical problem
Diarrhea Ulcer
Irritability Infertility
Trouble concentrating Stroke

Injury or Illness Caused by Stress
There are various medical conditions, including allergies, neck and back pain, and even infertility, that have all been linked to stress. Stress can lower immunity, so you are less able to defend yourself from viruses or bacterial infections. This can lead to a cascade of poor health, as viruses have been known to trigger even more serious diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases that are often lifelong. There are some schools of thought that believe some cancer is also triggered by stress. High blood pressure, often connected with stress, can lead to heart disease and strokes.

Stress in other aspects of life can affect your fitness and training or lead to injury or negative consequences as well. For example, if you are overwhelmed or anxious, you might forget the proper equipment. Not only does this lead to poor performance, it can also cause injury. Stress on your schedule for time can lead you to work out at odd times of the day, perhaps running when it is dark out. Not only can you trip and fall, but also you are at the mercy of drivers who could hit you or criminals looking for a vulnerable woman.

There has been research on the links between poor stress management and higher injury rates. Not only can the body and immunity become weaker, but muscles are more tense, concentration is poor, and self-confidence is down. The distraction of stress on the mind interferes with focus and concentration, which can contribute to injuries. Also, pessimists and people more easily angry, aggressive, and depressed are more likely to injure themselves.

Mood Problems Secondary to Injury
Coping methods are very important during times of injury. A serious athlete who identifies herself with a certain sport can be devastated by an injury that takes her out of the game. She might fear losing her skills, strength, conditioning, and experience of a season. She might also fear losing her position. Additionally, she is unable to exercise as before due to the limitations of her injury. Even though she might now have a lot of time on her hands, she might feel great stress and turmoil.

There are many uncertainties related to injury. It is common to wonder if she will ever be able to play as well again. She might become anxious waiting for healing to take place and develop depression. She might also lose touch with her athletic friends and find new friends and interests. If these behaviors or feelings are affecting coping skills, feelings of self-worth, and identity problems, it is valuable to see a psychologist, counselor, social worker, or psychiatrist. The sooner she can start talking to someone, the sooner she will feel better and avoid negative mood problems. Other problems related to injury are related to weight. An active athlete who cannot exercise due to injury might fear weight gain and start dieting.

This can be detrimental to healing because nutrition is crucial at times of injury. If the injury is to a leg, calories burned are actually higher than you think, as it takes more calories to hop on one leg, use crutches, or use your upper body to move around. Also, your body requires more calories to heal the injury. Therefore, although the injured athlete might have to cut back a little on caloric intake, there is really little risk of weight gain during this time.

For competitive athletes who are having trouble coping with injury, involving themselves in aggressive rehabilitation with a physical therapist and/or athletic trainer can be very helpful. Also, exercising the noninjured body parts can relieve stress. For some athletes going to practice and games can be helpful, although be aware that it might also be frustrating for the injured athlete to be a spectator rather than a participant.

Having a sports counselor or therapist is also very helpful for the injured athlete. She can help discuss and find ways to control the athlete's healing and rehabilitation process, focus on goals, and practice visualization and imagery of sports performance to keep the athlete mentally "in the game." The counselor or therapist can also help encourage mental imagery and have the athlete try other sports or activities during the healing process.

Strategies to Cope with the Stress of Illness or Injury

  • Have goals for therapy and rehabilitation.
  • Focus on the outcome.
  • Keep an active social schedule.
  • Read inspirational books about other athletes' injuries.
  • Work out regularly, incorporating rehabilitation strategies into your training.
  • Add stretching routines incorporating breathing and relaxation (such as yoga) into your training.
  • Practice visualization and imagery every day.

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