New research (2017): Psychological aspects of sports injury

This page contains a list of research related to the psychological aspects of sports injury published in 2017. Its aim is to be a resource for students and researchers investigating the topic.  It is a ‘work in progress’ and will be updated throughout the year. If you are aware of a piece of research that you think should be added to this list please add it using the ‘leave a reply’ box at the bottom of the page.

Alexanders, J. & Douglas, C. (2017). The role of psychological skills within physiotherapy: a narrative review of the profession and training, Physical Therapy Reviews, DOI: 10.1080/10833196.2016.1274352

Arvinen-Barrow, M., & Clement, D. (2017, January (1st Quarter/Winter)). Preliminary investigation into sport and exercise psychology consultants’ views and experiences of an interprofessional care team approach to sport injury rehabilitation. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 31(1), 66-74.

Arvinen-Barrow, M., Hurley, D. & Ruiz, M.C. (2017). Transitioning out of professional sport: the psychosocial impact of career-ending injuries among elite Irish rugby football players. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 11(1), 67-84.

Carson, F. & Polman, R.C.J. (2017). Self-determined motivation in rehabilitating professional rugby union players. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, 9:2.

Gnacinski, S. L., Cornell, D. J., Meyer, B. B., Arvinen-Barrow, M., & Earl-Boehm, J. E. (2016, December). Functional Movement Screen Factorial Validity and Measurement Invariance Across Sex Among Collegiate Student-Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(12), 3388-3395.

Heaney, C. A., Rostron, C. L., Walker, N. C., & Green, A. J. (2017). Is there a link between previous exposure to sport injury psychology education and UK sport injury rehabilitation professionals’ attitudes and behaviour towards sport psychology?. Physical Therapy in Sport, 23, 99-104.

Heaney, C.A., Walker, N.C., Green, A.J.K. & Rostron, C.L. (2017). The impact of a sport psychology education intervention on physiotherapists. European Journal of Physiotherapy, 19(2), 97-103.

Ivarsson, A., Tranaeus, U, Johnson, U. & Stenling, A. (2017). Negative psychological responses of injury and rehabilitation adherence effects on return to play in competitive athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 8, 27-32.

Zach, S., Dobersek, U., Filho, E., Inglis, V. & Tenenbaum, G. (2017). A meta-analysis of mental imagery effects on post-injury functional mobility, perceived pain, and self efficacy. Psychology of Sport and Exercise.




The impact of a sport psychology education intervention on physiotherapists

The journal article below is available to download free of charge from the following link for a limited time only.

Heaney, C.A., Walker, N.C., Green, A.J.K. & Rostron, C.L. (2017). The impact of a sport psychology education intervention on physiotherapists. European Journal of Physiotherapy, 19(2), 97-103.

The video below provides a brief summary of the key findings from the research.

The purpose of this study was to measure the impact of an online sport psychology education module on the attitudes and behaviours of qualified sports physiotherapists in the UK. Ninety-five sport physiotherapists studied either a sport psychology module or a control module, and their attitudes and behaviours towards sport psychology were measured prior to studying the module and at three points over a six-month period following its completion. It was found that those who had studied the sport psychology module demonstrated an improvement in their attitudes towards sport psychology immediately following its completion that was significantly higher than those who had studied the control module. Use of sport psychology also increased following the sport psychology module, with significant differences seen between the intervention and control group on the sport psychology subscale, indicating that those who had studied the sport psychology module were integrating more sport psychology techniques into their practice than those who had studied the control module. It was concluded that the online sport psychology module was effective in improving the attitudes and behaviours of UK physiotherapists and that more sport psychology education opportunities should be made available.

Are we teaching our physiotherapists enough about psychology?

By Caroline Heaney

Physiotherapists are healthcare professionals involved in the treatment and rehabilitation of a broad range of patients in a variety of settings (e.g. hospitals, clinics, and sports clubs). This means that physiotherapy training and practice needs to cover a diverse spectrum of areas. Physiotherapy, as suggested by its name, is primarily concerned with the physical condition and has traditionally focused on just the physical aspects of injury and impairment. More recently however, consideration of the psychological condition during treatment has grown in importance. In line with this in recent years there has been a move away from the biomedical model towards the biopsychosocial model in physiotherapy practice.

Although UK bodies such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) acknowledge that an understanding of psychology is important to effective physiotherapy practice, and research has consistently shown the importance of psychological factors in physiotherapy, there appeared to be little known about psychology education within UK physiotherapy programmes and how effective this education is. A literature search failed to find any recent investigations examining the psychology content of UK programmes. In fact the most recent detailed investigation was published in 1989. We therefore decided to undertake our own investigation titled ‘A Qualitative and Quantitative Investigation of the Psychology Content of UK Physiotherapy Education Programs’.

The aim of this investigation was to examine current psychology provision within UK physiotherapy programmes to see if progress has been made since Baddeley and Bithell’s investigation in 1989. Specifically, the investigation aimed to examine the nature and extent of psychology covered in physiotherapy programmes. Representatives from seventeen UK universities that run physiotherapy programmes endorsed by the CSP and HCPC were interviewed regarding the psychology content of their physiotherapy programmes.

What did we find?

All of the universities claimed to include some degree of psychology content within their physiotherapy programmes, with health psychology being the most commonly cited topic area taught. It was largely agreed that psychology is an important component in the education and training of physiotherapists. However, there appeared to be great diversity both within and between universities in the provision of psychology education, and an underlying inconsistency between the reported importance of psychology and the demonstrated importance of psychology through its visibility within physiotherapy programmes. Such diversity and inconsistency was also reported by Baddeley and Bithell (1989), perhaps indicating that limited progress has been made in standardising the psychology curriculum for physiotherapy students over the last twenty-five years.

With regard to the delivery of psychology content, most universities used an integrated approach where psychology content was embedded into other aspects of the curriculum rather than delivered in discrete chunks or modules. The key reason cited for this was that of contextual relevance; it was largely felt that an integrated approach to the delivery of psychology content would lead to a more applied understanding of the topic. It was beyond the scope of the study to accurately determine whether or not the integrated approach to psychology content delivery is effective, however, it is possible that such an approach could sideline or de-emphasise the importance of psychology in physiotherapy practice. It has been suggested that an integrated approach may have a negative impact on confidence in using psychology. Another concern is that this approach can lead to vast inconsistencies in the volume and quality of psychology taught, both between and within universities, and difficulties in quantifying the amount of psychology covered. In line with this, when questioned regarding the amount of psychology in their physiotherapy programme, most were unable to provide an estimate and those who did varied greatly with responses ranging from 5-80%.

Key to a thorough understanding of psychology in an applied context is an understanding of the theoretical underpinning. Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect that the psychology content of physiotherapy programmes would contain a strong theoretical underpinning. However, this was not the case for all universities, with 41% of participants indicating that their psychology provision did not contain any theoretical underpinning. This is suggestive of a degree of superficial coverage of psychology amongst these institutions, which could potentially disadvantage students. One way of improving this situation would be for bodies such as the CSP and HCPC to set more prescriptive guidelines in this area.

The majority of participants rated psychology as highly important in the training of physiotherapists, stating the need for a holistic approach and an understanding of people and behaviour as the key reasons for this. However, this begs the question as to why its coverage is often hidden and why such inconsistency remains between universities in the nature and extent of their coverage. One answer to this may lie in the sheer volume of content required to be covered in physiotherapy programmes. Whilst this study focussed on the psychology content of physiotherapy programmes it is important to note that physiotherapy students have to cover a vast number of other topic areas. When asked what factors dictate the amount of psychology that is covered, time/space in the curriculum was the most commonly cited answer. The second most common answer related to staff; namely the quality, enthusiasm and availability of staff. It seemed that universities were only able to provide good psychology provision when they had access to staff able to facilitate this, which was not always possible.


It is clear that many physiotherapy programmes in the UK provide students with an appropriate grounding in psychology that will positively impact upon their professional practice and that these universities contain strong advocates for psychology amongst their staff. However, this is not always the case and there appears to be great variance in the psychology provision within physiotherapy programmes, which could potentially disadvantage some students. The findings from our study suggest that more needs to be done to standardise the psychology content of physiotherapy programmes in order to ensure that students at all institutions receive a similar level of training in psychology, which will have a positive impact on their professional practice.

Phillip Hughes death: world of cricket comes to terms with tragic loss

By Caroline Heaney, The Open University

The cricket world has been rocked by the tragic death of 25-year-old Phillip Hughes who lost his life two days after being struck on the back of the head by a cricket ball during a match in Sydney.

In a heart-warming tribute, several Australian cricketers gathered at the Sydney Cricket ground where the incident took place following the news of this death. This act not only showed respect for Hughes, but it also showed great solidarity amongst the cricketers. Such solidarity will be important as Hughes’ teammates and the wider cricketing community come to terms with his death.

Sean Abbott, a friend of Hughes, who bowled the ball that ultimately caused Hughes’ death will particularly need the support of his fellow cricketers. Abbott did nothing wrong – he bowled a perfectly legal ball, but he will still probably experience feelings that could affect his future in the game. Thankfully, the cricketing world has shown united support for Abbott. For example, former Australian captain Mark Taylor stated: “I hope Sean Abbott can forgive himself because the cricket community doesn’t blame him at all” – a sentiment that is shared throughout the world of cricket.

Grieving for teammates

The death of a teammate can be deeply difficult for sports people to deal with. Teammates share a great bond. They spend a lot of time together, have shared goals and aspirations, share challenging times, and often develop strong friendships. The loss of a teammate, particularly in such tragic circumstances, will be hard for Hughes’ fellow cricketers to come to terms with.

Previous research by Keith Henschen and John Heil that examined the impact of the death of a teammate on sports performers found that players experienced feelings of shock and disbelief in the immediate aftermath following a teammate’s death, and experienced continued deep negative emotions such as depression as time progressed. Due to the close bond between teammates the death of a teammate can be more akin to that of a family member than to that of a colleague.

The emotions experienced by the sports people in this research link to grief response models which suggest that people progress through a series of stages as part of the grief process. In Kubler-Ross’ well-known grief model from 1969. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Obviously grief is not a simple process and there are individual differences in the way that people experience grief, but this offers a framework of typical responses. To help people cope with the grief of losing a friend or teammate and progress through these stages it is important that they receive support, and it is pleasing to hear that Abbott is receiving that from a counsellor.

Risk of more injuries

Hughes’ death will have an impact not only on his teammates, but on the cricket world as a whole. An incident like this makes players realise that they are not invincible and can cause a reality check that can lead to more cautious play. For example, bowlers the world over might think about the potential consequences of their ball before bowling as a direct consequence of this incident and be in fear of causing harm to another player.

Batters too may be more fearful of getting hurt. Fear of injury and death are not conducive to good performance and in fact caution can actually cause more injury. In Henschen and Heil’s study, an interesting finding was that injury rates were higher in the two weeks following a teammate’s death than at any other point during the season.

Sport psychologists and other professionals are crucial at this time to help players cope not only with the grief of losing a member of their fold, but also with the impact this can have on their play and performance. The loss of such a young and talented player is truly tragic and will have an impact on cricketers everywhere. Let’s hope that the legacy of camaraderie and team spirit he left behind him will help his fellow players deal with the loss.

The Conversation

Caroline Heaney does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

OUSA Conference, 29th June 2014

Today Jess Pinchbeck and myself led a session at the Open University Student Union Conference on effective goal-setting. We thought it might be useful for those who attended to have a copy of the slides, so here they are:

Goal setting

We really enjoyed the session and would have loved to have a little more time to answer questions. If you enjoyed the session, you may also find the resource below useful.

Finally if you want to find out more about our Degree in Sport, Fitness and Coaching visit:

It’s ok for female athletes not to look pretty!

In an era where we are still trying to have women’s sporting achievements separated from their sexual identity, where accounts of women’s sporting exploits are dominated by their physical appearance, comments recently made by sports minister Helen Grant do very little to develop women’s sport.

Grant suggested that women should be encouraged to take up ‘feminine’ sports where they can look ‘radiant’. That’s hardly going to do anything to increase female participation in traditionally male dominated sports such as football and rugby! It sends a message that these kinds of sports aren’t suitable for women and perpetuates stereotypical perceptions about these sports.

It also tells sportswomen that they need to look pretty whilst training and competing, which isn’t really conducive to hard training. Hard training makes you sweaty, makes your hair messy and makes your make-up run, but hard training is what you need to be successful in sport. So when we tell young girls that they need to look pretty whilst training, we are not encouraging them to push themselves to their limits and become the best athlete that they can be. We are not encouraging them to excel.

I appreciate that Grant’s comments have perhaps been taken out of context and that she was commenting on how to encourage specific groups of women into sport, but I still think her comments are misguided. Successful female sporting role models are the key to encouraging girls and women to take up sport and the Winter Olympics have provided us with some new female stars and yes some of these women might be ‘beautiful’, but that’s not what their role as role models is about – it’s about their physical sporting achievements, not their physical appearance and that’s what we should celebrate.

Sanghani, R. (2014). ‘Get more women into sport through cheerleading – it’s feminine’, says sports minister Helen Grant, The Telegraph, available from:

Injured at the Olympics

By Caroline Heaney

This article appeared on The Open University Winter Olympics Blog on 8th February 2014

Imagine you have spent the last four years of your life preparing for one special moment, only to have it snatched away from your grasp at the last moment. That scenario can be a reality for the Olympic athlete who sustains an injury before or during the Olympic Games.

Yesterday it was announced that bobsleigh athlete Craig Pickering was returning home from the Winter Olympics without even having stepped on the Sochi bobsleigh track. His exit was the result of a back injury. Pickering stated that he was devestated not to be able to compete in his first Winter Olympics.

Pickering is not alone. Research examining the psychological impact of sports injury shows that the occurence of a sports injury can lead to several negative reactions such as anger, frustration, anxiety and depression.

Some models of psychological reaction to injury even suggest that a sports injury can constitute a form of loss, and for the athlete whose Olympic dream has been crushed by injury this is certainly evident.

A tale of two injuries…

Sport psychology plays an important role in helping the athlete to cope with sports injury. Psychological strategies such as imagery, self talk, goal setting, relaxation and social support have all been shown to aid sports injury rehabilitation. A mentally strong athlete will cope better with injury and grow from the experience.

Pickering’s team mate, bobsleigh driver John Jackson, has certainly shown an ability to grow from the experience of sports injury. Back in July he suffered a serious Achilles’ tendon rupture – an injury that could almost certainly have put an end to his Sochi Olympic dream. Yet thanks to a positive attitude and some pioneering surgery he will be competing in Sochi, and following a some recent good performances at the European championships and World Cup he is a genuine medal prospect. It is claimed that Jackson has returned sronger than ever before. Jackson recently tweeted “To all injured athletes. Never give up faith, never give up on your dream and fight to come back better than you were. Believe in yourself” – inspirational words for any injured athlete.