ROSEMONT, Ill. (June 11, 2021)—In the past five years, the rates of participation in individual and team sports by those under the age of 19 have grown to a staggering 41.7% and 54.9%, respectively. With summer sports in full swing, athletes are continually at risk for various musculoskeletal injuries, such as the muscle strains and ligament injuries often found in baseball players. While there are undoubtedly psychological benefits to participating in sports, the dangers of emerging or underlying psychological disorders after a sports injury can have a substantial effect on the recovery of athletes after surgery. Qualitative studies show that among collegiate athletes who have sustained an injury that prevented them from participating in their sport for at least 30 days, most report feelings of depression, loss, frustration, anger and decreased self-esteem.

Melissa Christino, MD, FAAOS, orthopaedic trauma and sports medicine surgeon at the Boston Children’s Hospital and AAOS spokesperson, is available to speak about the impact of psychological factors on measurable outcomes after orthopaedic surgery and the various psychological interventions that can be implemented to improve surgical outcomes and post-operation care of injured athletes.

Her research “The Mental Side of the Injured Athlete,” which is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS), reveals the following:

  • After an orthopaedic injury, 51% of injured athletes met the criteria for at least mild depression, with 12% meeting the criteria for moderate depression.
  • Other psychological disorders associated with injured athletes include anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and kinesiophobia (the fear of movement).
  • The ACL Return to Sport after Injury scale, a 12-item questionnaire that measures psychological readiness to return to sports after injury on a 0 to 100 scale, is an important tool in predicting postoperative outcomes in patients undergoing ACL reconstruction surgery.
  • Psychological interventions often recommended to reduce anxiety and kinesiophobia are largely based on the tenets of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, including education, goal setting, challenging negative thoughts and graded exposure.

Dr. Christino’s experience and research demonstrates the importance of both mental and physical healing after an orthopaedic sports injury. Furthermore, to encourage optimal outcomes after orthopaedic surgery, understanding the psychological impacts on injured athletes, and the interventions that can be offered, is necessary.