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Visualization & Mental Skills for Injury Recovery

July 28, 2012
By

Part One in the Series – Using the Body Report

by John Beeby

If you want get straight down to using the techniques jump to the ‘Techniques’ section below. For a little more background read the Introduction first……

Introduction

From the outset, research and practice around the use of mental imagery or visualization in sports has recognized a relationship between the psychological and the physiological (Psychophysiology, the mind-body connection etc)). For example, Carpenter (1894) presented the ideomotor principle of visualization to describe the similarities in electrochemical impulses that flow through a muscle when it is flexed and when it is ‘imagined’ to be flexed. Essentially, this implies that we can prepare our bodies for movements long before we physically do them and we can improve movements we already do by remaining still and closing our eyes. Mental skills like this enable any professional gymnast or acrobatic martial artist to do extraordinary things and these types of athletes know this concept well. Both often have to perform new sequences that have a high potential to end their careers if they fail the first time they perform it. By using visualization, the gymnast could have practiced the Amanar–round-off onto the springboard (a challenging move!) 1000 times perfectly before they have even got changed for training, and better still their bodies would in essence have experienced it 1000 times.

The principles of competitive visualization have another important application and this mental skill can be integral to – assisting in the recovery from injury.

It is estimated that in the UK alone there are nearly 30 million sport and exercise related injuries in a given year (Nicholl, Coleman & Williams, 1995). Think of the athletes you know who have suffered an injury; you might have even experienced one yourself. Injury is one of the foremost threats to an athlete’s development as even simple muscle strain can affect training programs, which could in turn destroy competitive chances. For many athletes, routine medical interventions can often lead to a full recovery from their injuries. Physical recovery is often facilitated in rehabilitation by the process of ‘visualization’, one of the psychological techniques highly suggested by consultants and physiotherapists.

Despite its prevalence we, the authors, regularly receive opinions from science and athletic professionals that there is a lack of methodology around the actual practice of visualization as a whole, and particularly, the process of visualization for recovery from injury.

Techniques

In this short series of articles we would like to propose a collection of simple step-by-step models that can be used by sports medical professionals, coaches, parents and most importantly, independently by the athlete.
Just so you know what to expect, the process will follow the form of increasing body awareness to a detailed level, preparing the visualization ‘muscle’, connecting with the goal and building powerful support for recovering the effected area.

What is the Body report?

Aims:
- Create increased body awareness needed to carry out further visualization techniques successfully
- Set Body Report technique as a habit to be used after recovery to prevent relapse
- Notice important differences in sensations within the body
- Significantly support Physio based exercises.

We have been using Body report in our personal practice with clients for around five years now and although it is built upon supporting research it is most definitely inspired by a friend, Dr Grinder. The most energetic 70 year old we are likely to know, Dr Grinder is an established climber (of rock and frozen waterfalls). Still highly active, in the seldom occasions he takes a fall on a climb, he scans through his body using a similar technique to check for injuries before moving a muscle and as a kind of status check. It has saved him from worsening injuries on several occasions.

Step 1.
Differentiate psychological stress-related tension, injury related Muscular tension, Pain/physical damage
“ What colour represents the tension you feel in your body when you are psychologically stressed e.g. anxious before an event, angry or ‘wound-up’?”
“ What colour represents the sensation you feel in your body when you have muscular tension e.g. when you have worked out hard, over extended etc.?”
“ What colour represents the sensation you feel when you have actual Physical damage in your body i.e. at the site of Pain where the injury exists.?”

Step 2.
With your eyes open, visualize yourself standing/sitting/lying down in the same posture you are currently in, somewhere opposite you in the room/area you are in now.
Make sure your visualization of yourself is exactly the same height and width proportions that you are.
Now make the visualization almost transparent as if the ‘you’ over there is made of glass.

Step 3.

In the ‘Glass’ Visualization of yourself (NOT your body) – Go through every muscle/muscle group/ area of the ‘GLASS’ body from head to toe using the following protocol:
Using the colour code set-up in step 1 ask “ Is the area transparent (see through,clear…)?”
If No – “ what colour is it , – Stress(Colour), muscle tension(Colour) or Damage(Colour)?”

Make a mental note and move on to next muscle group. (Facilitator’s can maintain a written diagrammatic record if they wish. Clients should be left to be absorbed by the process)
Facilitator’s example “ I would like you to notice in the ‘glass you’ over there, The muscles at the top of his/her head. What colour is the area?/ Is the area Clear, Stress(Colour), muscle tension(Colour) or Damage(Colour)?”

Step 4.
Visualize the coloured areas of Psychological stress in the ‘Glass’ you.
Working area by area starting from the top, pay attention to the coloured area and just let the colour fade and dissolve away until the area becomes clear once again.
Leave the other colours and go onto any physiologist exercise that may have been given, checking in with your body report to make any subtle adjustments that may be needed.

This technique alone is an invaluable tool in supporting the entire process of recovery. We find in our practice that those who practice this technique at least once a day (approx 15 mins) for 5 days (with or without other visualization techniques) can greatly support their progression. However, attempting the coming visualization steps in our model without setting up Body Report has often led to inconsistent results in our experience. Of course all of this is up to the individual to test and the use of this technique is the sole responsibility of the user.
See you next time!

John Beeby

John Beeby – “I specialize in the field of Sport Psychology, accredited through The British Association of Sport and Exercise Science and registered with the HPC. I use Psychological techniques to facilitate health enthusiasts and athletes achieve excellence. Having worked with individuals within multiple sports these include Football, Rugby, Golf, Tennis and Martial Arts.  With a passion for making the difference I am a very performance based coach. Specialising in the progression and development of the psychological needs of the athlete.”  You can visit his website at: http://www.ultimatementalskillstraining.com/

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