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What is a Recovery Mindset?

How to make a bulletproof mindset that accelerates injury recovery.

When it comes to sports injuries, a narrative often goes untold. Beyond the physical strides made in therapy sessions and the appreciative detail to the biomechanics aspects of healing lies the equally critical tale of psychological recovery. As a chiropractor dedicated to the holistic well-being of athletes, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of integrating psychological readiness with physical rehabilitation. I often say that you cannot take the injury out of the person. We deal with injury like we deal with every stressor and setback in life; It is an extension of our would view. Want to know a person? See how the react to injury. This week I want to push into the inner world of external healing.


Unveiling Confidence: The Cornerstone of Rehabilitation

Confidence, in the context of sports rehabilitation, transcends mere self-assurance. It represents a deep-seated belief in one’s ability to overcome the setbacks posed by injury and to emerge stronger. This belief is not innate but carefully fostered through every step of the rehabilitation journey. From the initial evaluation to the moment an athlete steps back onto the field, confidence is painstakingly built through evidence-based practices, compassionate support, and a tailored recovery plan. Make no mistake, a recovery mindset is a CHOICE.

In my clinic here in New Braunfels, the nurturing of confidence begins with setting realistic, achievable goals. These goals act as milestones that, when reached, reinforce the athlete’s trust in their recovery process and their capabilities. Whether it’s regaining full range of motion, achieving stability in the knee, or returning to jogging, each milestone is celebrated as a testament to progress. Confidence becomes both the foundation and the outcome of a successful rehabilitation process.


The Power of Passion: The Secret Behind Healthy Rehab

However, physical recovery and confidence alone do not complete the rehabilitation narrative. The role of passion — an athlete’s intrinsic love for their sport — is equally impactful in recovery. It is this passion that often provides the fuel for the arduous journey of recovery. The love for the game acts as a beacon of hope and a source of motivation, pushing athletes to engage fully with their rehabilitation, even during the toughest days.


Incorporating this passion into the rehabilitation strategy is essential. It involves understanding and acknowledging the emotional bond an athlete shares with their sport and using it as leverage to enhance their commitment to recovery. By discussing goals in terms of both physical benchmarks and in the context of returning to play, we keep the flame of passion alive. Visualization techniques, motivational interviewing, and even brief sessions of tactical analysis or game strategy discussions can help maintain a psychological connection to the sport, making the rehabilitation process more meaningful.


Integrating Psychological Readiness: A Holistic Approach

The journey back from an injury, including something like an ACL reconstruction, is as much a psychological endeavor as it is a physical one. Integrating confidence and passion into the rehabilitation process necessitates a holistic approach that acknowledges the athlete’s mental and emotional state alongside their physical recovery.


In clinic I commit to this comprehensive model of care. I believe in creating a supportive environment where athletes feel understood and motivated. A collaborative approach involves athletes in their recovery planning, encouraging self-reflection on their progress, and continuously reinforcing the positive aspects of their journey back to sport. Drawing upon recent research, including a pivotal study on psychological readiness to return to soccer following ACL reconstruction surgery, let’s dive deeper into what this path to recovery will look like for you or your loved one.

Cultivating Confidence: Reciprocal Impact in Physical Recovery

For athletes, particularly young ones, confidence is the foundation for successful rehabilitation. It’s essential to understand that confidence extends beyond the physical realm. It encompasses trust in the rehabilitation process, belief in the expertise of healthcare professionals, and, like we said earlier, faith in one’s own ability to recover and return to play.


For weekend warriors and parents guiding young athletes, fostering an environment that nurtures confidence is crucial. Celebrate every milestone, no matter how small, and understand that setbacks are part of the journey. If we are pushing the envelope physically then we will step over the line occasionally. That is why I encourage open communication with your healthcare providers, whether that is a chiropractor, physical therapist or trainer, to set realistic goals and understand the recovery timeline.


Keeping the Flame Alive After Injury

Keeping the passion or enthusiasm for the game alive after an injury is crucial for a holistic and fulfilling recovery. It’s the spark that ignites the drive to push through challenging rehabilitation sessions and the glue that keeps an athlete connected to their sport during times of physical absence. To nurture this passion, engage in activities that keep you connected to your sport, such as attending games as a spectator, participating in team meetings or strategy sessions, and visualizing your return to play. The hardest thing on an athlete when recovering from a significant injury is that you feel isolated from the team.

Surround yourself with reminders of your love for the game, whether through motivational quotes, videos of your best performances, or simply talking about the sport with friends, teammates, and coaches. Remember, your passion for the game is a powerful ally in your recovery journey, fueling your motivation and providing a beacon of hope and excitement for your triumphant return.


Beyond Mind and Body: Other Key Considerations

In addition to the physical and mental connection to healing, the most comprehensive path to recovery weaves together a confluence of realistic optimism, personal agency, supportive professional guidance, and a nurturing environment. These elements, are underpinned by recent research on psychological readiness for returning to sports. Offering a holistic blueprint for rehabilitation that transcends the conventional.


The Beacon of Realistic Optimism

Realistic optimism is not about wearing rose-colored glasses; it’s about maintaining a positive outlook while being fully aware of the realities of one’s rehabilitation journey. This balanced perspective fosters resilience, enabling athletes to navigate setbacks gracefully and maintain focus on their recovery goals. For weekend warriors and young athletes, adopting realistic optimism means understanding that while the road to full recovery may be challenging and fraught with obstacles, each step forward is a victory in its own right.


Maintaining Control and Input in Your Recovery

Control and input means actively setting recovery goals, understanding the treatment plan, and making informed decisions about your are. This empowerment fosters a sense of ownership over the recovery process, enhancing motivation and adherence to rehabilitation protocols.


For parents of young athletes, encouraging your child to take an active role in their recovery, to ask questions, and to express their concerns is vital. Give them room to speak. It ensures that the young athlete’s voice is heard and that they feel supported and involved in their journey back to the field.


The Therapist’s Mindset: A Pillar of Support

The mindset of the therapist or professional guiding the rehabilitation process is a linchpin in the athlete’s recovery. A therapist who embodies empathy, understanding, and a patient-centered approach can significantly impact the athlete’s outlook and engagement in their rehabilitation. Professionals who are both highly skilled in their craft and in tune with the psychological aspects of recovery, who celebrate small wins with their patients and provide encouragement through setbacks, are invaluable allies on the path to recovery.


The Role of Environment in Recovery

The environment, both socially and physically, plays a critical role in encouraging recovery. A supportive social environment, characterized by understanding family members, encouraging teammates, and empathetic coaches, provides a safety net that catches athletes during moments of doubt or frustration.


Physically, the rehabilitation setting itself matters immensely. Facilities that are welcoming, equipped with the necessary tools for recovery, and staffed by professionals who foster a positive and encouraging atmosphere can make a significant difference in the rehabilitation experience.

What can psychology do for rehab?

Here are 3 thing research shows can LEVEL UP your injury recovery.

1. Visualization/guided imagery- taking as little as 3 mins to picture being pain free and what your life will look like when things are resolved.

2. Positive Self Talk- words have weight. When you tell yourself a narrative about how broken you are you start to believe it. Change that narrative to something empowering.

3. Focus on what you can do not what you can’t. When injured we get caught up in how far we have to go instead of how far we have come. Writing down gratitude for the things you can do helps to keep motivation high


Your Recovery Mindset in Action

Embracing a recovery mindset transcends the journey of physical rehabilitation, offering a blueprint for overcoming life’s hurdles beyond sports injuries. This mindset, characterized by realistic optimism, personal agency, the invaluable support of empathetic professionals, and a nurturing environment, is a testament to the human spirit’s resilience. It reminds us that the principles of recovery extend far beyond the confines of physical injury, serving as a guiding light for personal growth, overcoming challenges, and achieving excellence in all facets of life.


Remember that your influence directly or indirectly on the recovery process is monumental from weekend warriors and young athletes. By fostering a bulletproof recovery mindset characterized by confidence, passion, realistic optimism, and active participation, you’re setting the stage for a successful return to sport and cultivating a set of life skills that empower resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.


Let this journey of recovery not just be about returning to your sport but about transforming adversity into opportunity. If you’re here in the New Braunfels area, give me a call. I am here to support you every step of the way, ensuring that your recovery journey is successful, enriching, and transformative. Together, let’s harness the power of a recovery mindset to navigate the challenges of rehabilitation and emerge stronger, both on and off the field.



Kunnen, M., Dionigi, R. A., Litchfield, C., & Moreland, A. (2019). ‘My desire to play was stronger than my fear of re-injury’: Athlete perspectives of psychological readiness to return to soccer following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery. Annals of Leisure Research.


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