Recovery from an injury or illness of any type can be challenging. It is especially difficult for an athlete who is accustomed to performing at a high level. Incorporating a regimen of mental training can speed recovery and possibly even improve pre-injury performance.
The concept of neuroplasticity involves the ability of the human brain to recover after injury. This is most commonly seen after a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Early rehabilitation will limit the extent of permanent damage by allowing new pathways to compensate for those that were injured.
One of the biggest challenges when going through rehabilitation is that suddenly a patient will have time available that they did not have before. That time element must be managed carefully in a positive sense or it can lead to depression, anxiety and slowed or incomplete recovery.
Mature athletes accept that injury is part of sports and rehabilitation is part of the experience. These athletes often return to successful careers. Unfortunately, some athletes are consumed by the injury and never return.
Among the most notable success stories are those of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson, who both returned from serious injuries to have great seasons.
The key elements to the mental aspect of injury recovery include: setting realistic goals, positive self-talk, relaxation and visualization. The visualization component is the most intriguing and difficult.
Visualizing a task in great detail can activate neural pathways from the visual cortex to the motor strip of the human brain. This has been confirmed in recent studies performed with functional MRI imaging. The regular practice of visualizing the throwing motion in detail after a shoulder injury has proven to shorten recovery when the physical ability returns.
The mental aspects of recovery from any injury should not be ignored.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org