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by Raechel Bugner, DPT, FAFS

Posted in Blog.

August 10th, 2018

The Power of Positive Thinking

You’re in the midst of an excellent training cycle for your marathon (foam rolling everyday, following your training plan to a “T”, eating well and getting enough sleep) but then it happens- you step awkwardly off of a curb, your ankle buckles, and your marathon hopes flash before your eyes. Within minutes your ankle is an interesting shade of blue and has doubled in size. You start to panic and doubt that you’ll even make it to the starting line of the race.


The good news is that it’s just a sprain and you’ve found an excellent Physical Therapy Clinic that specializes in running injuries to help get you back on your feet. The bad news is that you’re forced to take precious time off from training and you’re only a month away from the big day. At this point you have a few options: you can use the “good news” to help fuel a positive outlook regarding your predicament and busy yourself with rehab or you can choose to ruminate over the “bad news”, wallow in self pity, and begrudgingly go through a few sets of exercises your therapist taught you. In both of these scenarios you’re going to physical therapy, diligently completing your home exercise program, and listening to every word your PT says- the difference is your mindset (and you’d be surprised how intertwined your mindset is with your road to recovery).


Research from both Johns Hopkins and the Canadian Medical Association have shown that a patient’s attitude regarding their recovery has beneficial effects on their rehab outcomes. This means that the patient’s who demonstrated generally favorable attitudes regarding their recovery from surgery or injury tended to heal more quickly and with fewer complications than their counterparts who were fearful, worried, or pessimistic. The scientific reasoning behind this theory is that a positive attitude protects against the inflammatory damage that is caused by stress, while negative emotions weaken the immune response. This type of chemical response to mood and attitude is a product of evolution. Worry, anxiety, fear or otherwise negative thoughts release the stress hormone cortisol as a consequence of the fight or flight response. High levels of cortisol make it difficult for the body to regulate inflammation. When an injury is healing, inflammation is meant to be a transient state- a necessary part of healing, but something that the body is able to move beyond so that the rest of the healing process can continue. If cortisol is causing the body to stay inflamed, your sprained ankle can never move into the final stages of recovery and the healing process is delayed.


A negative state of mind can also narrow your train of thought and close your mind off to potential solutions to a problem. Moving back to our example of a sprained ankle, a person with a pessimistic outlook sees their recovery in time to run the marathon as hopeless- they don’t attend every PT session or complete their exercises diligently because they’ve closed their mind off to the possibility of a successful rehab. Meanwhile, that same person with a hopeful attitude can clearly see that the path to the starting line is through completing their prescribed exercises and making it to each therapy appointment- they might even change their diet, sleeping patterns, and lifestyle to help speed up recovery. The person with the upbeat demeanor is also more likely to discover alternative training options to keep their fitness up while they are sidelined from running.


Here are a few tips to help you keep a sunny disposition the next you find yourself sidelined with an injury:


  1. Meditate: take 10-15 minutes each day center yourself in the present. If you are truly present for those 10-15 minutes, you can’t possibly be thinking negative thoughts and you have no time to worry or fear what might happen in the future. You’ll come out of those 15 minutes with a more clear mindset that will allow you to better assess all of your options regarding recovery. If you find it too difficult to meditate on your own, try using one of the many meditation apps or hop into a guided meditation class (offered at many yoga studios).


  1. Write: grab a notebook and take a few minutes first thing in the morning to scribble down what you are grateful for. Research has shown that giving gratitude everyday results in an overall more positive perspective which can help frame your outlook the next time you’re injured.


  1. Surround yourself with positive people: this might seem like an aggressive suggestion for someone who just needs to change their outlook the next time they’re injured, but it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the type of people you choose to surround yourself with and the impact they have on your mental health. Understand that the individuals encircling you are the friends you will turn to for advice when things aren’t going your way. Having a supportive, encouraging community around you will help strengthen the positive attitude that you choose to possess as you recover.
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