Working in an orthopedic department in a hospital is becoming a more popular setting for ATs. Similar to other settings for ATs, observing the long road back from injury is one of the most rewarding experiences especially if the athlete is back to performing at a high level. Along that road, there are bumps and triumphs both physically and mentally. Reaching a milestone such as full range of motion is taken for granted in the non-injured population but offers a glimmer of hope for an athlete who just had Tommy John surgery or an ACL reconstruction – it means they’re on their way back to the playing field.
Getting back to the playing field is a priority for an athlete who is about to or has already undergone surgery. Most of the time, the athlete senses something wrong in their body and knows they need to get it fixed; meanwhile, other athletes may not be so in tune with their body and may not know the reason for their decreased performance. One aspect that we don’t talk about as much as a society in terms of athletes is the mental toughness one has to possess to endure a year off from sports to get healthy again. It is easy to praise an athlete for their desire and laser-like focus in a clutch situation. However, that same athlete may fail to get beyond a mental hurdle and may even breakdown when they cannot perform a straight leg raise after their ACL has been “fixed”. It has been my experience that many highly competitive performers become frustrated with their progress, or lack thereof, when it is not easily measured.
How can we keep our athletes on task when they are down in the dumps and feel that there is no way they’re going to get better? I’m sure we have all read about the success stories post-injury. Not everyone is open to talking about the failures they had to overcome to get back to the field; or if they do, it is very brief. For every success story, there are road bumps along the way whether it is a setback, different injury, lack of noticeable progress, etc. What have you, as an AT, done to help your athlete get beyond that? Or if you didn’t know what to do, what did you do in that situation and how/what did you learn from it?