Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: External Support Decreases the Detrimental Psychological Effects of Injury Among Athletes (Sports Med Res)


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

External Support Decreases the Detrimental Psychological Effects of Injury Among Athletes

Stressors, social support, and test of the buffering hypothesis: Effects on psychological responses of injured athletes.

Mitchell I, Evans L, Rees T, and Hardy L. Br J Health Psychol. 2013; [Epub Ahead of Print].
Take Home Message: Among injured athletes, having a high level of support (emotional, esteem, informational, and tangible), particularly if the athlete perceives this support, is associated with less psychological stress.

It is widely accepted that strong social support can help alleviate psychological stress. This social support also shapes how athletes may cope with the psychological stresses that arise from injury, giving the athlete a social outlet so as to not feel isolated or alone. Mitchell and colleagues described 2 studies to determine the influence of social support on psychological responses to injury. A total of 621 athletes (Study 1: 319 [258 male, 61 female, mean 27.27 years old]; Study 2: 302 [194 male, 108 female]) who were injured for a minimum of 1 week, completed measures of stressors, social support, and psychological responses to injury.  In this study the authors focused on two stressors – incapacitation and loss of confidence – because they are applicable to sports injuries. The authors used the Social Support Inventory for Injured Athletes to assess social support (emotional, esteem, informational, and tangible), either perceived or received. In both studies the athletes completed the Psychological Responses to Sport Injury Inventory to assess psychological responses in 5 subscales: devastation, feeling cheated, restlessness, isolation, and reorganization. The first study focused on the athletes’ perceived availability of social support while the second study focused on the social support the athletes’ reported receiving. Overall, Study 1 revealed a stress-buffering effect for the perception of esteem support in relation to restlessness, isolation, and feeling cheated. Further, the perception of emotional support had a stress-buffering effect with regards to isolation. Both Studies 1 and 2 showed a beneficial effect for esteem, emotional, and tangible support in relation to restlessness, isolation, and feeling cheated.

This study presented an interesting look into how injured athletes perceive and/or receive support and how these influence the mental state of injured athletes. As expected both perceived and received support created a stress-buffering effect among injured athletes. It would be interesting to see more details surrounding the level of competitiveness, sport participated in, or past medical history so that we could assess how generalizable these studies are to our patients. Regardless, these studies demonstrate the benefit of having strong support available to an athlete and the importance that the athlete acknowledges that the support is available to them (perceived support). This may be particularly relevant since injured athletes recognize sports medicine clinicians (e.g., athletic trainers) as a good source of social support (see first related post below). It is important for us to foster this support as we help them recover both physically and mentally. Clinicians should also ask injured athletes about their support both perceived and received. Conceivably, this information should help guide clinicians as they work to return the athlete to play. If an athlete has very little support then perhaps the clinician should be aware of this, particularly if the athlete encounters a set-back in their rehabilitation.

Questions for Discussion: Do you find that social support is important for reducing the stress injured athletes experience? How might a clinician provide support to an athlete with little support outside of you, the clinician?

Written by: Kyle Harris
Reviewed by:  Jeffrey Driban

Related Posts:
Are We Doing Enough to Plan for How Injuries Affect Players Later in Life?

Mitchell I, Evans L, Rees T, & Hardy L (2013). Stressors, social support, and tests of the buffering hypothesis: Effects on psychological responses of injured athletes. British Journal of Health Psychology PMID: 23621677


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