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Negative thinking in track and field athletes raises risk of overuse injury

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If you´re a track and field athlete and you blame yourself over a bad performance, you may face a higher risk of injury.

A new study has found that athletes who self-blame tend to push themselves harder, and this approach can result in greater frequency of overuse injuries.

Swedish researchers analysed 278 elite track and field athletes for their study. Over the course 12 months, as many as 71% of the athletes sustained an injury and the vast majority of these (97%) were classed as overuse injuries, such as tendinitis or stress fractures.

Results showed that those athletes who used self-blame as a method of coping were the most likely to get hurt.

Reporting their findings in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the researchers said:

“What seemed to be more strongly related to the likelihood of overuse injury was not the athletics load per se, but, rather, the load applied in situations when the athlete´s body was in need of rest.”

Study author Dr. Toomas Timpkin, quoted by Runner´s World magazine, explained that if an athlete feels a slight twinge while training, the best response is to ease off until the pain goes away. That´s because most overuse injuries start with a slight inflammation that, if allowed a few days of rest or alternative training, will resolve on its own.

But athletes who self-blame and repeatedly continue training through pain run the risk of causing more harm to their tendons and joints.

“If a runner has self-blame as a coping strategy, that runner blames him- or herself for not being tough enough during training,” Dr. Timpkin said. “Self-blame may serve the athlete very well in the short term — it may be correct that the athlete really didn´t push hard enough before the competition. But the thing is that if this self-blame turns into more of a pathological negative thinking, then it becomes a problem.”