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A.D.’s Corner: September 10, 2009

Can An Athlete Speed Up the Healing Process by Using Their Mind?

It’s not as strange as it may sound. Growing research is finding that it may be possible to speed up the healing process by using specific mental skills and techniques and maintaining a positive mindset. Researchers have been studying how the mind influences the healing of the body for decades.

A recent study of the use of imagery by injured athletes concluded that, “the implementation of imagery alongside physical rehabilitation should enhance the rehabilitation experience and, therefore, facilitate the recovery rates of injured athletes.” Another study looked at the differences in people who healed quickly and those who healed slowly and found some significant differences. Those who healed faster had the following:

• Had high motivation, desire and determination

• Had more social support

• Expected a full and successful return to sports

• Took personal responsibility for their recovery process

• Maintained a positive attitude

• Frequently used imagery and other visualization techniques

What is Imagery? - A technique that is often used in sport psychology is imagery. This is also sometimes referred to as guided imagery, mental rehearsal or self-hypnosis. These are all terms used to describe specific techniques that use all of the senses to create mental images, feelings and sensations related to a desired outcome as though it is happening now or has already happened. By using all your senses to create this very real experience of having the desired outcome, you mentally and physically rehearse this desired state.

Research on imagery use by injured athletes, and those undergoing physical rehabilitation has shown that using imagery has many positive outcomes including:

• Increased rate of healing

• Increased ability to cope with therapy

• Increased motivation to participate in self-care

• Improved mood

• Increased feelings of control

When to Use Imagery Techniques - There are many uses of imagery or self-hypnosis in sports medicine. These techniques have been found to be useful in injury recovery, pain reduction, sports performance enhancement and general stress management.

Imagery for Pain Reduction - The idea behind using imagery for pain reduction is built upon the principle of relaxation. When muscles are relaxed, they hold less tension. This often leads to reductions in the experience of pain. Imagery techniques that often help increase relaxation and reduce pain include imagining the sensation of getting a massage, sitting on a warm beach or taking a hot bath. Some people have success with imagery by imagining pain being released from the body in a visual way, such as being breathed out with each exhalation. If you mentally rehearse experiences such as this in great detail, you are using imagery.

Imagery for Healing - Just as people use imagery for reducing pain, individuals have reported that similar techniques work for promoting healing and recovery. Examples of healing imagery include imaging a broken bone being glued back together or torn muscles woven back together. Some people use warm, healing colors to promote a feeling of warmth over a body part.

Next Week - Specific steps to use imagery and a sample imagery worksheet.

Dr. Silverman is the districtwide athletic coordinator for Glen Cove schools. He has a degree in sport and exercise psychology from Boston University. He has worked with high school to professional athletes on performance enhancement and has appeared on a number of sports programs discussing the topic of youth sports. He has a passion for making athletics the best possible experience it can be for all young athletes, as well as ensuring all youth have an opportunity to use sport as a learning tool about life and health. Dr. Silverman is a fitness buff who still is an avid ice hockey player.