psychosomatic injury

Psychosomatic symptoms of injuries on Athletes

Often athletes go through a great deal of psychological and physiological turmoil. This can have a great impact on their performance and more often than not lead to psychosomatic symptoms of injuries on athletes. Some or most athletes tend to over train and spend hours perfecting each stroke and movement. This could lead to over exertion and burnout which are evident through certain psychosomatic symptoms that the athletes tackle. It is crucial to first and foremost delve into what is classified as a psychosomatic symptom?

Psychosomatic defined by Merriam-Webster is relating to, involving or concerned with bodily symptoms caused by mental or emotional disturbance (1828). In simpler words, it essentially means that our emotional and psychological problems, have a way of reflecting on our bodies health and well-being.

What are some of the psychosomatic symptoms of these injuries on athletes?

Psychosomatic stress symptoms include sleep loss and headaches, which cause additional strain to the athletes (Daumiller et. al. 2021). While symptoms of stress could occur due to wanting to win in the sport, setting unrealistic goals or expectations which could also make the athlete feel like they are not doing enough. Distress causes harmful effects on the physiological make-up of the athlete. This is an important aspect to shed light on since an athletes overall performance and well-being relies heavily on their physiological and psychological well-being and thus, keeping the negative symptoms under control is of great importance.

Psychosomatic stress symptoms have a negative impact on the performance of athletes. For example, in a review on stress and sleep in elite soccer athletes, Nédélec et al. (2015) reported that different psychological, sociological, and physiological stressors can result in reduced sleep quality and quantity, ultimately leading to compromised psychological and physiological functioning. Moreover, when comparing the mental health of German elite student-athletes with regular students, the elite athletes were found to have more frequent stress and mental disorders that manifest as a physical symptom such as an illness or injury  (Daumiller et. al. 2021). This evidence clearly suggests that psychosomatic stress symptoms when prevalent can hinder performance.

Psychosomatic stress symptoms usually occur as a by-product of psychological and physical stress. For example, an athlete ‘Y’, is having difficulty sleeping or having frequent headaches because of the stress Y faces because of performance issues on the field or negative feedback from the coach.

It is important to delve into what are the causes of these psychosomatic symptoms of injuries on the athletes.

Factors that are precursors

There are several factors that could pose as a precursor to an injury for athletes, a few of them are as follows-

Psychological factors, such as stressful life events like a death of a family member, could be extremely challenging for an athlete to deal with. While personality factors (self-esteem and perfectionism etc.) and social factors (support and motivation from team members, coach and parents) do play a significant role in predicting the injuries of athletes, psychological factors trump the two by a substantial margin (2017).

While there is no one specific cause of how athlete’s get injured, stress poses as the most notable symptom. Even for individuals who are not athletes, stress is the most crucial factor when it comes to a person’s physiological health. Athletes who experience high life stressors such as coming from low-income or single parent households, not doing that well in school  and not having the personal coping skills to deal with these stressors or not having any social support to deal with these issues might pose them at an even greater risk of sustaining athletic injury. Stress also causes attentional changes such as narrowing of attention, general distraction and increased self-consciousness that interfere with an athlete’s performance. Stress has been shown to cause increased muscle tension and coordination difficulties which increase the athlete’s risk of injury (2016).

precursors of psychosomatic symptoms injuries on athletes

The Andersen and Williams model depicts the relationship between stress and injury, personality, history of stress and coping resources and interventions which impact the balance between perceived demands of the sport and the athletes perceived resources (Smith, 1996). As observed in Figure.1, the personality, history of stressors and coping resources all heavily impact the stress response of an individual. These factors further lead to possible injuries and external situations such as cognitive appraisal of demands, resources and consequences.

To put this model into simpler words

Here is an example: Player A, is a 16 year old soccer player. He has a high level of internal motivation as a personality trait and is an extremely driven individual. His motto while playing the game is “It is either winning or nothing.” His parents are going through a divorce at the moment that is affecting his game, both mentally and physically. He has a fairly decent social support system i.e. his coach understands his family issues but also expects him to produce well on the field. He also faces backlash from his teachers at school because he is falling behind on school work because of the game. Evidently due to all these factors A is very stressed. He does not have the sufficient resources to cope with the stress and all these factors together have inadvertently predisposed him to possibly facing an injury.

Injuries also play a heavy toll on the mental health and well-being of the athlete. While there are psychosomatic symptoms involved such as changes in appetite, sleep disturbance, irritation, lack of motivation, anger, sadness, disengagement etc. mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety usually follow. Every athlete will react to these psychosomatic symptoms differently but what is important is the rehabilitation process of how the athlete deals with it. If athletes do not have the accurate coping resources while in their rehabilitation process, they might face psychological disorders such as depression which might physically and emotionally decrease their quality of life.

When Olympic skier Picabo Street sustained significant leg and knee injuries in March 1998, she battled significant depression during her recovery. She stated: “I went all the way to rock bottom. I never thought I would ever experience anything like that in my life. It was a combination of the atrophying of my legs, the new scars, and feeling like a caged animal”

(Putukian,2014, para.6).
In conclusion

To aid the athlete before their psychological and physiological well-being deteriorates into psychosomatic injuries, it is important to be aware of the athletes emotions when they are injured. As a coach, athletic trainer, parent, teammate etc. it is important to keep the athlete involved in the team and keep them engaged mentally so that they do not go down the rabbit hole of thinking whether they are good enough or not. Coaches should promote treatment such as visiting sports psychologists at a time of mental turmoil or even getting the adequate physiotherapy required to bounce back into the sport.


Dr Aynsley M. Smith (1996). Psychological Impact of Injuries in Athletes. Sports Medicine, 22(6), 391–405.

Martin Daumiller;Raven Rinas;Jennifer Breithecker; (2021). Elite athletes’ achievement goals, burnout levels, psychosomatic stress symptoms, and coping strategies . International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology,

(2017). Psychological Issues Related to Illness and Injury in Athletes and the Team Physician. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(3), 189–201.Retrieved from

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