By Robert B. Andrews MA, LMFT
PTSD from war trauma is a terrible aftershock for soldiers who experience the horrors of war. I recently read an article about PTSD in veterans who suffer from the effects of PTSD. I was struck by how exact the imprinting process for war trauma is when compared to athletes who suffer serious sports related injuries.
I don’t mean to compare the intensity of war trauma to athletic performance, or minimize our soldiers experiences. My intent is to point out the similarities in brain functioning and imprinting between war time experiences and serious sports related injuries.
The quote below comes from an article by Nolan Peterson about PTSD in the military. Although he is talking about intense combat experiences he perfectly describes the mental imprinting process that athletes experience when suffering a serious sports related injury like an ACL, broken leg, or concussion.
“But that’s the point. The hormones released by high-stress situations instruct the brain to imprint memories more deeply. Evolution taught us that trick: The caveman who could best remember how he escaped a saber-toothed tiger attack had a statistically better shot at surviving the next one. That’s why time appears to slow down in a car crash or while you’re getting mugged. The adrenaline coursing through your veins triggers your brain into hyperactive memory storage. Your mind and senses go into overdrive, absorbing every sensory detail with superhuman lucidity and completeness.
Because of this, an event that might only last a split second occupies as much mental storage space as a week or a month. Years later you can recall details, feelings, colors, smells, and sounds more vividly than you can remember this morning’s breakfast.” ~ Nolan Peterson
To the Brain, Trauma is Trauma
So sports injuries can be traumatic to the athlete.
I have spoken with athletes who tore their ACL and can remember what the grass smelled like when they laid on the field after being injured. Others recall how quiet the crowd became and how bright the lights were. Many hold an image of their teammates all looking at them as the trainers and team physicians looked after them.
These images are loaded with unprocessed information related to the injury.
I treat injuries from a trauma based approach. We teach the brain how to process this overwhelming cauldron of high stress information. This is the critical step in a full comeback after suffering injury.
If this story resonates with you, if you have intrusive mental images that relate to your injury, if you are afraid of getting hurt again, you are not alone.
We can get you back in the game quickly with diminished fear of re-injury and restored confidence.