What Are the Effects of Physical Injury on Mental Health?

If you’re injured, there are far-reaching effects on every part of your life. For example, if you’re injured in a car accident, you might have to take time off work. It can impact your ability to manage home responsibilities, and you may not feel like yourself or like you’re contributing to the world around you as you once did.

The same is true with other types of injuries, like sports injuries. When you have a sports injury, you may not do the activities you love.

These are effects that can have a significant impact not only on your physical health and well-being but also on your emotional and psychological well-being.

That’s why in personal injury cases, you’ll often hear discussions about non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are a way to add monetary value to your pain and suffering. These can be hard to calculate, but they shed light on the mental effects of being hurt, which is for so long something many of us didn’t understand.

Physical harm in any capacity can trigger psychological disorders.

Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms

In terms of sports injuries especially, it’s somewhat common for athletes after they’re hurt to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. For example, an athlete might feel like it’s somehow their fault they were hurt, so they can try to deny themselves things they need, feeling like they don’t deserve it.

An example of a maladaptive coping mechanism among athletes is denying themselves food, which can turn into an eating disorder.

The same can be true of other types of injuries. For example, if someone is in a car accident, they may turn to pain medications and begin taking higher doses than prescribed, which is a maladaptive coping mechanism.

A physical injury or trauma can also come with other areas of stress that worsen negative coping mechanisms.

If you’re hurt in a car accident, then you may have to deal with medical bills, vehicle repair, insurance issues, and other types of stress. The more stress you feel as you’re trying to recover from physical injury, the more likely you are to lean on coping strategies that aren’t healthy or productive.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD is one specific mental health condition that is common in people who experience an injury or physical trauma. PTSD includes symptoms of anxiety, avoidance, flashbacks, and nightmares.

If you have PTSD, you may fear going to the place where your trauma or injury occurred or being in a similar situation. For example, if you’re hurt in a car accident, you may avoid driving or being in a vehicle.

If you experience a trigger, it can cause a flashback. Flashbacks make you feel like the whole incident is happening to you again.

If you have a current injury, you can’t forget about it if you still have symptoms and it’s not healed. That can then lead to more stress for someone with PTSD. Physical injury is a constant trigger of psychological trauma.


People who have a mild traumatic brain injury are significantly more likely to report having symptoms of major depression or PTSD anywhere from three to six months after the injury. In the same study, only 8.7% with orthopedic injuries but not traumatic brain injuries said they’d had the same symptoms.

Certain types of physical trauma, as such, may be more linked to mental health issues than others.

If you sustain a TBI, you may be more prone to suffer a psychiatric disorder. Among people with these injuries, more than 29% deal with major depression in the first year after sustaining them.

People with injuries related to the brain are more likely to struggle in areas like socializing, and these patients are at risk for decades afterward, with frequent relapses.

Negative Emotional Reactions

Even if someone doesn’t have a diagnosable mental health condition following an injury, it’s very common to have negative emotional responses. When you’re injured, your daily life can drastically change. You might not be able to participate in necessary activities and those things that bring you joy in your life.

You may be more socially isolated, and if you can’t keep working or continuing certain activities, you could feel like you’re experiencing a loss of purpose or identity.

Negative emotional responses to an injury that are common among many people include:

  • Irritation
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Withdrawal
  • Disengagement
  • Denial

Following an injury of any type, changes in appetite and sleep patterns can occur. There may be feelings of alienation and a lack of motivation or apathy.

Substance abuse can occur, as can excessive anger or rage.

Mental Health Affects Injury Recovery

When someone is experiencing any negative mental health symptoms or responses to an injury, it can end up slowing down their physical recovery, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

If someone is experiencing a lack of motivation, for example, they may not participate in rehab or other treatment plans.

Fear of re-injury can lead to someone being unwilling to take any risks.

Ongoing denial could lead someone to skip rehabilitation and not follow the guidelines set by their treatment team, worsening the injury and lengthening the recovery.

The Importance of Mental Health Care After An Injury

Health care providers are increasingly seeing the complex and important ways mental and physical health are linked to one another. In terms of physical trauma and injuries, it’s important that health care providers recognize the impacts of being physically hurt on the mental and emotional well-being of patients. Noticing red flags early on can be an important way to help someone get mental health treatment while they’re undergoing treatment for the physical injury.

Healing mentally is likely to help someone heal more quickly and effectively from their physical injury.

Mental pain and suffering from physical pain and injuries are very real, and they should be addressed as such so that problems don’t worsen.

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