The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

The Power of Positive Thinking Aids Sport Injury Recovery

Posted by on Friday, June 21st, 2013


Positive thoughts don’t always come natural, especially when you’re healing from a serious injury. Sometimes you have to make spreadsheets reminding you of the good in life. Or you may have to read inspirational books to forget your pain and troubles. Overwhelming research suggests that there is some truth to the idea of “mind over matter” — and that the human mind does have the power to heal injury, to some degree.


Have you ever wondered why it seems pro athletes return to the sport so quickly after an injury that would have the average person sidelined for many more months? Not only is this phenomena attributed to their tremendous level of physical fitness, but also to their mental standpoint. “Many professional athletes bring to their recovery what they bring to their sport—a positive attitude,” says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Although you may not have access to the same resources that professional athletes have, you can harness the power of a positive attitude for your own benefit during recovery.”

Mental Imagery

Following an injury, the brain is still trying to process how the injury occurred and how to adjust to recovery time. A protective part of the brain “creates an intense emotional response –anxiety or fear,” explains sports psychologist Robert Andrews. Sometimes this unconscious response creates a physical block, where the body can’t perform a certain skill that is associated with the injury.

“There are very powerful techniques available like Eidetic Imagery and EMDR that teach the brain to process injury-related stress and fear,” Andrews says. “The results are profound. These techniques can give you more confidence, reduce your fear of re-injury and help dissipate negative mental images related to the injury.”

He recommends envisioning a healthy body performing full range of motion movements. He also says it’s important to avoid language like “I will never” or “my bad knee.” Instead, write down positive statements like “I will…”, “I am getting better at…”, or “the knee I am working hardest on.”

Qualities of Fast Healers in Sport Injury Recovery

A 1991 study looked at characteristics of fast healers vs. slow healers and found that the fast healers:

  • Took personal responsibility for healing
  • Had high desire and determination
  • Had more social support
  • Maintained a positive attitude
  • Used creative visualization, and
  • Were less fearful of re-injury upon return to full participation.

The researchers emphasized mental imagery in sports injury recovery as well. For instance, imagining concrete filling in a broken bone or torn muscle fibers being braided together can create a feeling of relaxation and wellness. Imagining tight muscles being massaged or pain flowing out of the body can be helpful too. Beginners may try reading or listening to an imagery script until this sort of self-talk comes more naturally.

Goal-Setting & Self-Talk

Goal-setting and self-talk are two of the most important factors in sport injury recovery, says the Sports Injury Bulletin.Sports and exercise psychologists Robert Weinberg and Daniel Gould say that providing injured athletes with a reasonable timescale is beneficial during rehabilitation. For instance, knowing that a patient can advance from goals such as full range of motion, to walking without a brace, to swimming, to cycling, to running on a treadmill can be empowering. When combined with positive statements — such as “If I keep working hard, I’ll have full range of motion again” — the results can be truly remarkable.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.