Is there a need for psychological support in ACL rehabilitation for elite athletes?
University of Wales Institute Cardiff
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Following serious athletic injury or physical trauma, psychological responses and emotional disturbances may occur as a result of stress in an athlete’s life (Brewer and Petrie, 1995; Leddy, Lambert and Ogles, 1994; Wiese-Bjornstal, Smith and LaMott, 1995). The nature of an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury can induce stress at a level resulting in a premature end of an athletes sporting career (Sparkes, 1998). Therefore, an athlete’s rehabilitation program should potentially include a physical and psychological component to minimise possible disruptions that occur as a result of an injury. The primary aim of this study was to gain an in-depth understanding of the psychological needs of elite athletes who have sustained ACL injury during their sporting career and its impact on sport re-entry, athletic identity and possible re-injury. Six female subjects (mean ± SD: age 23.8 ± 2.2 yrs) who have had one or more ACL reconstructions were interviewed for this study. All participants were interviewed one-on-one lasting 45 – 60 minutes using open-ended questions in a semi-structured interview guide. Transcribed interviews were analysed in matrices and interpreted to produce key themes and relationships across participant experiences (Hardy, Jones and Gould, 1996). Results of the study indicate that the rehabilitation outcome of an ACL injury in elite athletes links directly to levels of social support, involvement and reassurance from the rehabilitation team. The majority of psychological disruption that athletes encounter occurs during the initial stages of the rehabilitation process and the re-entry phase. Findings indicate that there is a need for a sport psychologist following ACL injuries regardless of individual differences. It may however, be suggested that other personnel can provide such psychological support if they have the appropriate skill sets, knowledge and understanding of such injuries and coping strategies.
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