The (Mental) Tolls of Physical Injury

I rang in 2017 with a bad knee sprain.


I had no idea how long this would take to heal, not to mention the complications of re-injuring my knee twice since the initial sprain in the winter.

Image Description: A Snowy street on St. Clair in Toronto. Walking around in deep snow and slippery streets proved very difficult with an injured knee–every step felt a little dangerous.

The initial injury happened in a way that was totally preventable, and I felt a lot of anger about the way it happened. I was on an airplane, flying back to Toronto from Calgary. I was in the window seat, and there was another passenger in the aisle seat. At one point during the 4-hour journey, I had to go to the washroom, and asked her if I could get by. She tucked her knees in so I could get past her (which was very awkward). On my way back to my seat, she had her phone plugged into one of the seats in front of her and I again, had to climb over her awkwardly and maneuver over her phone cord. In trying to twist back into my seat, I felt my left knee pop, buckle and then flush with excruciating pain. It hurt so badly, I thought I had broken it somehow.


WHY didn’t I politely ask her to get up so that I wouldn’t have to awkwardly climb over her?? Well, I’ve learned my lesson about maneuvering into tight spaces and speaking up.


Since the winter, I enlisted the help of osteopaths, physiotherapists, massage therapists and got advice from a personal trainer. It’s been nine months now, and my left knee is still in the healing process. From what I’ve learned, knees (and joints in general) can take a very long time to heal.


Certainly, a physical injury can take an toll. You have to pay attention to it, nurture it, strengthen it, and hope that it continues to get better. In part, increased biking has helped me to strengthen my quads (as advised by the healthcare professionals I’d spoken to). But it is still occasionally tender and I still worry about reinjuring it yet again, now that it’s been compromised.

Image Description: A snowy walk with a friend and her dog. First long walk/hike post-injury but before any re-injury. Walking/hiking was a safe way to begin restrengthening my knee and kept me active without too much fear of straining.

The first osteopath I saw mentioned to me that a knee injury (well, any injury) takes not only a physical toll, but a mental one too. It can make you feel unstable, shaken, and a little insecure. Certainly, I have found this to be the case for me. I’m much more cautious about how I move around. I feel concerned about re-injury, or what this will mean for the future. I wanted to take a tap dance class this fall, but with my knee still not feeling up to the task, I had to postpone.

I find myself worrying and wondering if it will ever heal completely—or at least to a place I feel good about. And more than that, I’ve had to deal with anger at myself for even “letting” the injury happen the way it did in the first place.


Then, there are the moments of self-comparison. I look to other people who have sustained far more serious injuries than myself and think, “They’ve got it way worse. What do I have to complain about?”


Beyond day-to-day concerns, I have found that my enthusiasm for exercise has waned slightly. I have fears about damaging my knee further (even with a lot of the helpful advice and information I’ve received about strengthening it). Putting these restraints on myself make me wonder if I have started to “coddle” my knee too much out of fear of further injuring it.


Of course, this fear isn’t necessarily productive when it comes to recovery or healing. But, I suppose it is one part of the process.


Thinking about the mental tolls of physical injury have reminded me how interconnected our bodies and minds are.


Moving forward, I’ve realized it’s important for me to address and acknowledge these mental tolls as things that need healing just as much as the physical healing my knee requires.

Image Description: A post-workout selfie. My t-shirt, appropriately reads, “Battle your FEARS.”

What about you?


What experiences have you had with injury and healing? Do you find physical injuries take a mental toll? How do you address physical injuries and what ways do you go about healing them?

9 thoughts on “The (Mental) Tolls of Physical Injury

  1. Mind & body are definitely connected! A colleague injured her knee badly skiing, had to have reconstructive surgery, & did so much daily & diligent rehab she made it stronger than the uninjured one 😃.

    My lower back injury has been an ongoing challenge though I must admit; I just have to make a little extra time re warm ups, and take a little extra care re activities. It’s made me more mindful, & more grateful for my health 😊.

    1. wow I didn’t know one could get her knee better than the original after having an injury.

      I always taught that after an injury like that it will always somewhat be worse and more prone to injury than a knee that was never injured.

      And that’s awesome that you found the bright side in your injury really like people like you 😀 hope it keeps getting better.

  2. Absolutely.
    I had a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal (foot) earlier this year. It was excruciating, yet I tried to minimize treatment,
    Findlay I conceded and wore the air boot for 6 weeks.
    It still has pain. I am a daily yoga practitioner, I favour the foot and am definitely unconsciously protecting in often.
    I tried wearing shoes at yoga for a while. It was too limiting.
    It makes me feel old.
    But…I never stopped going to yoga. I did everything seated or lying down. I found a willingness to accommodate that I never knew I had, and that has helped me when I instruct classes. Accepting modifications is difficult. I understand that so much better now.


  3. I’m in a walking boot for 5 more weeks minimally and you put all my feelings into words. I’m surprised how frustrating and emotional the whole process has been.

  4. I’m in exactly the same place. I sprained my knee in September last year and it’s still not totally healed. It wasn’t until I went to therapy a couple of months ago that I realised being injured had made my depression flare up again. And it’s directly linked; as soon as a physio told me my knee should get better with work, the depression became manageable again.
    I never knew before how strongly physical and mental health are connected.

  5. Ugh, so many feels! I hurt my knee just… randomly in early July and I can’t believe how slow and frustrating the healing process is. I’ve had to give up some activities I love, and PT is a big commitment of time and money! I’m not sure I can keep it up. Also, I’m a superfat and it’s made me really self-conscious about how others pereceive me. I constantly find myself worrying that people are thinking I’m limping because I’m fat (which it shouldn’t matter even if that’s the cause, but I don’t think it’s related.) I don’t think I realized before how much I was using my level of physical ability as a shield against fat prejudice. It’s been eye-opening for sure! Thanks for writing this piece!

  6. I’m just rereading this now and thinking I need to be more patient. I hurt my knee in November and it’s slowly getting better. I can climb stairs again now though down is still challenging.

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