The psychological aspects of sports injury
The psychological aspects of sports injury

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The psychological aspects of sports injury

1.2 Psychological factors and the risk of sports injury

Case study: Jody

Judo is, and always has been, the main focus of Jody’s life. She is a full-time athlete receiving National Lottery funding and is dedicated to achieving her goal of winning an Olympic gold medal. However, prior to becoming injured, Jody had a lot to deal with – her nephew had been hospitalised with a serious illness and she had recently moved house, having split up with her long-term partner. Jody has always found it hard to relax and ‘switch off’ and had been planning to book a session with a sport psychologist to help address this. However, she never got round to booking an appointment.

Sports injuries can be caused by a wide variety of factors. These factors can be grouped into four main areas: physical, environmental, socio-cultural and psychological (Wiese-Bjornstal and Shaffer, 1999). Physical (e.g. fatigue, overuse, muscle imbalances) and environmental (e.g. slippery surfaces, unsafe equipment) factors are perhaps more obviously associated with injury, but the links between socio-cultural and psychological factors and injury are less obvious.

Socio-cultural factors relate to the culture and attitudes that are often adopted within sports teams that could encourage the development of a sports injury. Some examples of the attitudes that could increase the risk of injury include:

  • the belief that pain tolerance demonstrates strength and toughness
  • an acceptance that pain and injury are part of sport – ‘no pain, no gain’
  • an unwillingness to seek medical treatment for fear of appearing weak
  • role and monetary pressures to continue to play sport while injured (e.g. pressure from management or sponsors).
(Adapted from Wiese-Bjornstal and Shaffer, 1999, pp. 24–5)

For the remainder of this section we will focus on the psychological factors that can increase an athlete’s susceptibility to sports injury. You will begin by reading some literature on this topic and linking it to Jody’s case study.

Activity 1 Psychological factors that may lead to injury

Allow about 40 minutes

Reread Jody’s case study and consider which psychological factors might have led to her injury and how these factors could have contributed to her injury.


There are two potential psychological causes of sports injury – personality and stress. Research examining the link between personality factors and risk of injury remains inconclusive. To date, stress appears to have received the most research attention, with Andersen and Williams’ (1988) model of stress and injury underpinning most of the research in this area. Williams and Andersen (1998) later revisited this model and made a few minor changes.

The risk of injury is thought to increase in proportion to the level of stress. Prior to her injury Jody seemed to be experiencing some very stressful situations. Dealing with the illness of a loved one, a relationship breakdown and moving house are all considered to be significant life stress events. According to Andersen and Williams’s (1988) model, this stress could have contributed to the development of her injury by:

  • acting as a distraction, preventing her from focusing on her judo techniques
  • narrowing her attention, causing her to miss important cues/stimuli
  • increasing her muscle tension, inhibiting the coordination of her movement when performing her judo skills.

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