Sport injuries: the athletes’ different pain perception

People who practice sports know that sport injuries are part of the game. Olympic athletes know that better than anyone else, as they’ve got a different pain perception.

Kerry Strug, sports injuries

It’s not easy sometimes to pinpoint an athlete in pain, if you’re among the audience. Athletes are quite skilled in hiding their pain and sport injuries, especially when they’re performing during a competition.

It doesn’t matter if these sport injuries and the pain related to them affect the athletes’ performance – if an athlete get injured while competing, they will never let you know.

Studies have shown that living with a physical pain is mostly a matter of mentality. Professional athletes are mentally trained to embrace the pain when they stumble upon minor sport injuries.

One of the aspects that experts are trying to figure out is how the pain perception changes when the athlete gets injured during a competition versus sport injuries gotten whilst training.

When an athlete is in agonist trance, their mental focus on their effort can be so huge that it could rise up the pain tolerance. In fact, during a match this pain perception could be much higher than during the ‘regular’ training days.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, if an athlete – in particular an Olympic athlete – gets sport injuries whilst competing, but they eventually find the mental strength to continue it until the end, despite the pain.

An unforgettable example of this is Kerry Strug’s story. Kerry was the US gymnast who, during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, led her team to the gold medal in vaulting, despite she damaged her ankle ligaments during her previous vault.

“At first, I hadn’t realised the seriousness of my injury. I understood that only later. The sound I heard were the ligaments getting damaged.”

These are Strug’s words after se won the gold medal.

A study of the University of Heidelberg (Germany) showed that many athletes have a higher tolerance to pain compared to ‘normal’ people. Strug’s story, like many other athletes’ stories on sport injuries, are a perfect corollary.

At Rio 2016 Olympic Games there’s an athlete in particular who stood out in this painful (and touching) aspect. French sailor Bouvet was brought to his boat in wheelchair. Bouvet was unable to walk due to a terrible sciatica, nevertheless he decided to honour the race at any cost. Chapeau to Bouvet and to all the athletes who every day face sport injuries to finish their competitions!


Photo Credits: Sport Illustrated