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Sports injuries preventable through psychology

University of Auckland study finds sports injuries preventable through psychology

A University of Auckland PhD student has shown that psychology has an important part to play in injury vulnerability for sportspeople and their ability to recover.

Ralph Maddison has submitted his PhD at the Department of Sports and Exercise Science and his research has shown that by altering psychological variables that help to reduce stress, using techniques like relaxation, then injury vulnerability can be reduced.

Ralph says much of the injury-related studies to date have focussed on physical and environmental factors such as fitness levels, shoes and ground conditions.

"Psychological factors have a significant part to play in understanding injury occurrence, prevention and rehabilitation and this is part of the study I've undertaken," says Ralph.

His study was divided into three parts, initially identifying the connection between psychological factors and injury occurrence, then introducing a stress management programme for athletes "at-risk" of injury to reduce injury-vulnerability and finally introducing proactive rehabilitation intervention (observational learning video) that increased confidence to recover.

The first study involved 470 rugby players and the results demonstrated that people with low social support, high avoidance focussed coping strategies and a high history of previous injury were most likely to suffer future injury.

"This means that by identifying people with an "at-risk" psychological profile we should be able to do something proactive for them in the future."

The second part of Ralph's study looked at introducing a stress-management programme for those players with an "at-risk" psychological profile in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of sustaining further injury and reducing the amount of time missed due to injury.

Fifty rugby players were divided into two groups at the beginning of the season. Coping techniques such as relaxation, positive self-talk, imagery, goal-setting and planning were introduced to one group. These were designed to help them deal with the rigours of training and the stress associated with competition.

The second group were the control group that continued through the season with no additional assistance.

The results at the end of the season showed the intervention group had fewer injuries and missed less time due to injury than the control group.

The final part of Ralph's research addressed the role of psychology in the rehabilitation setting. This study looked at whether patients following knee surgery would recover faster by watching observational learning videos of an individual who has already gone through the same procedure.

"The final study looked at 76 athletes undergoing an anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACL) and the rehabilitation involved following this," says Ralph.

"The participants were divided into two groups, with one group viewing videos of other people who had the same operation, showing their rehabilitation progress along the way.

Results showed that those who watch the videos had greater confidence to perform rehabilitation exercises and walk following their operation. The video group also had better early functional outcomes after surgery compared to the control group.

Ralph received funding from ACC for the first two studies. Ralph hopes that his research will be used in the future to assist athletes in their ability to not only prevent injury, but also recover quicker by addressing these and other psychological factors.

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