Sports Medicine The Psychology of Returning to Play Post-ACL Injury By Sports Medicine, December 20, 2017 A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can be a career-ending knee injury for an athlete. Despite advances in surgical treatments, sport-specific rehabilitation programs, and activity-based guidelines to help determine when an athlete is ready to return to play, many athletes are hesitant to step back onto the field or court. The psychological healing that needs to occur after an ACL injury can be just as important as the physical healing. When athletes aren’t confident in their recovery or mentally ready to get back on the field, the likelihood of them returning to play decreases. Learn more information about UPMC Sports Medicine and our ACL Injury treatments. Psychological Fears Following ACL Injury There are several factors that contribute to an athlete’s hesitation to return to play post-ACL injury. One of the biggest reasons is the fear that comes after such a painful and temporarily debilitating injury. If the pain of an ACL injury is still fresh in their minds, athletes may avoid certain actions or activities for fear of re-injury. RELATED: 8 Tips to Prevent ACL Injury Combating Psychological Fears Post-Injury One of the most effective ways to combat the psychological fear associated with an ACL injury is to engage in mental preparation while physically rehabbing the knee. Mental preparation can take many different forms. Identifying potential mental barriers to successful rehabilitation is the first step in combating psychological fear. Every athlete requires different mental preparation when rehabbing an ACL injury. Discussing a treatment and rehabilitation plan in detail from the beginning can be beneficial for some athletes. Others find emotional support during rehabilitation by connecting with fellow athletes who have experienced ACL injuries. Returning to Play After an ACL Injury UPMC Sports Medicine Is a Leader in the Development of Return to Play Guidelines The doctors at UPMC Sports Medicine understand the importance of athletes being active participants in their rehabilitation, including the benefit it has towards mental healing. They work with athletes to explain each step of the recovery process and take the time to answer questions from patients, coaches, and families. Our surgeons and physical therapists are national leaders in the treatment, rehabilitation, and research surrounding ACL injuries. They have treated ACL injuries in athletes of all ages, skill levels, and injury histories and know how to appropriately challenge patients to complete their therapy while building confidence for return to play. UPMC Sports Medicine experts recognize that a complete rehabilitation program, regardless of length, is the best way to prevent re-injury and diminish the psychological fear of returning to play. Learn more information about UPMC Sports Medicine and our ACL Injury treatments.