Industry News: The Psychology of Sports Injury Stress

09 Jun 2014

Sports injury prediction has previously relied upon physiological parameters, but research into Swedish Premier League and international footballers focuses on the psychological factors involved in injury prevention and recovery.

In an interesting paper published in 2013 (Journal of Sport Rehabilitation (Ivarsson, Johnson & Podlog, 2013 and discussed here), Andreas Ivarsson and Urban Johnson, from Halmstad University, discuss the relevance of psychological factors on a footballer's level of injury susceptibility and recovery. 

These psychological parameters are based upon 'stress injury models', originally designed in 1998 by Williams and Andersen (Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 10, 5-25). Aspects of stress models include: personality factors, stress-related history and injury coping capability. With the start of the Football World Cup 2014 in Brazil only days away, any aspect of a footballer’s psychology and injury stresses will become of major interest to all football lovers and sports scientists.
The level of the stress response is suggested to be influenced by how threatening the athlete perceives the situation to be. Ivarsson and Johnson discuss these situations that an athlete might experience: stress susceptibility – the athlete has experienced a great number of stressors and has personality traits such as a high anxiety level – and coping resources – the athlete finds certain situations such as an upcoming match or training session are threatening. This greater level of stress response can change the athletes' cognitive response and generate greater muscle tension and a narrowed peripheral view, which could lead to an elevated risk of injury.

Players at the start of their football season were asked to complete three separate questionnaires based upon varying parameters of psychology. The data was then analyzed using path analysis software. The results showed that 24% of injuries during the study were predictable. High levels of player-related personal stress were associated with higher levels of injuries. These stress levels could, in turn, be related to a player's ability to respond to certain cues during a match or training, and to making playing decisions. These poor decision responses in training and matches are then associated with an increased risk of injury for the players.

The muscle related stress response can be measured (using point-of-care diagnostic tests) by an elevation in cortisol levels, caused by the hormone fluctuations associated with the feeling of being 'stressed out'.