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Athletes’ anxiety about injury or illness linked to risk of being injured

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Elite athletes who are anxious about injury or illness before competition are more likely to suffer injuries during the event, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The findings suggest that pre-participation symptoms that cause anxiety are predictors for in-championship health problems.

The way in which the symptoms progress also influences the risk of injury, with symptoms that increase gradually before competition more closely linked with the risk of injury during competition.

An international team of researchers, led by Linköping University in Sweden, surveyed 957 athletes before the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Athletics and recorded new injuries and illnesses that occurred at the championships.

Results showed that athletes who reported a pre-participation illness symptom causing anxiety were five times more likely, and those reporting a gradual-onset injury symptom were three times more likely, to sustain an in-championship injury.

“Elite athletes know their own bodies extremely well. If an athlete becomes anxious about injury or illness, this is a reliable indicator of the degree of seriousness. We have seen this also in previous studies. An athlete cannot lie to himself or herself,” said Toomas Timpka of the Athletic Research Center, Department of Medicine and Health Sciences at Linköping University, one of the researchers who conducted the study.

“We were surprised that the results were so clear in this study among top-flight athletes,” Timpka added. “We recommend that the teams include a clinical psychologist, thus enabling the athletes to talk openly about their anxiety for illness or injury when preparing for competitions. It is important that the athletes do not conceal any injuries from their trainers or doctors.”