Utilizing imagery to enhance injury rehabilitation. When an athlete suffers an injury it immediately elicits fears, limited or no participation. Depression and hopelessness can soon set in. Time away from sport can be offset by substituting “mental practice” by visualizing sport skills, rehearsing strategic plays or game plans, and reviewing past successful performances. In injury rehabilitation, imagery aids the athlete to organize goals and provides the motivation to achieve those goals. Each athlete’s focus is productively channelled toward what they can do, as opposed to what they can’t. Imagery is an effective, positive, and useful method proven to encourage injured athletes during this tough phase. Imagery that incorporates relaxation, visual, emotive, and healing techniques is a great way to help athletes on the road back to playing their sport. Wise use of imagery techniques can shorten the recovery period and minimizes the psychological damage to the athlete. Imagery allows the athlete to participate actively in the progression and assume ownership for recovery.
- Visual imagery allows athletes see themselves performing the movements of their sport which hard-wires the brain to maintain their fundamental skills and allows the athlete to see the movements that lead to restoration. Self-hypnosis prior to the attempt to visualize helps the athlete recall the movements more vividly.
- One of the strongest forms of sensation is emotive memory which is a significant tool to create a sense of self-efficacy. Memories trigger emotions and can help athletes to transcend the despair that negatively affects the rehabilitation process. In a relaxed hypnotic state the athlete can remember successful experiences with all the senses which further enhance healing in the body.
- Healing mental imagery, visualizing the healing process, is an effective technique that can decrease anxiety, and enhance recovery from sport injuries; This allows the athlete to sense and see the transformational process of recovery as the body responds via the natural effects of the healing.Healing imagery guides the injured athlete to “see” healing occurring in the injured joint (e.g., seeing the blood stream bring damaged tissues away from the injury reducing swelling, and seeing the new cells repairing the damaged area) and to “feel ” tissues getting stronger (e.g. visualizing ligaments feeling as strong as steel, or as many fibers linking together).
- Relaxation imagery (e.g. imaging a pleasant scene such as a waterfall, a soothing stream, or a sunset) promotes physical relaxation of the musculature surrounding the injured joint, allowing for blood flow to return to normal and encouraging healing and rebuilding in the area.
With injury, blood flow is increased to the joint or injured area causing swelling, pain, and immobility. Pain following injury is also produced by muscle spasms, which is evidence of the body’s attempt to protect the injured area from further damage. Relaxation can alter the injured joint/area by causing physical changes at the injury site. Relaxation can be helpful in the face of physiological stress and has been shown to aid in reducing pain associated with injury and injury rehabilitation (Dridiger, Hall, & Callow, 2006; Evans, Hare, & Mullen, 2006).