Secondary injury is an injury that occurs because of the primary injury. In some ways, a secondary injury is harder to cope with than the primary one.
Injury affects people differently even if the injury is the same between two people.
On the surface this seems incongruous but given that no two people have the same backgrounds, the same personality and the same pressures it seems strange that anyone would experience an injury in the same way as another person. Secondary injuries are therefore more common than we might at first suspect. The usual is for a person with a physical injury experiencing a psychological issue as a result of is but it is also true that someone with a psychological injury can become physically injured or an unrelated psychological injury as a secondary issue to the first.
So what happens?
Being injured has to include an emotional response to that injury these can include:
- Lack of motivation
- Changes in appetite
- Sleep disturbance
These are all natural emotional responses to an injury and as hard as they are to experience and live through, as people gain control over their recovery, they tend to find that these emotions reduce in their intensity.
While experiencing these emotions are part and parcel of injury, it is important to identify if these thoughts and emotions are changing behaviour (beyond that dependent on the injury). If the injury is a psychological one then this can be difficult but even then you can make some differentiation between what might be “normal” versus what may be “extreme” in the context of the injury.
There are a few simple (and some complex) things you can do to inoculate yourself against a secondary psychological injury:
- Eat healthy. Though their isn’t a super food you can take to “cure” yourself, eating healthy is as good as it gets to help your body cope with the influx of emotions you can expect if you are injured.
- Given your injury and the advice of your doctor, exercise is a great way to help your brain cope with chemicals that can flood the brain when emotions feel like they are too much to manage.
- Talk to your doctor about your emotional state as well as your physical state. If you are feeling like it is getting increasingly worse your doctor can assist you in several ways such as medication and counselling.
- Ask your partner or a friend to be vigilant of your changing behaviour and alert you if they feel your behaviour is going beyond what would be normal for your current situation.
- Maybe see a sports psychologist or injury psychologist. This is their area of expertise, why not prevail yourself of that expertise.
If you feel like those emotions are becoming “out of control” you should take some action quickly, don’t wait.
- Get help, this isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength and recovery. Your doctor knows that emotional issues are part and parcel of physically and psychological injuries. They also know of ways to help.
- Review your diet and exercise (these do help please believe it).
- Remember that it is normal (despite how it feels at the time) and many, many others have been though what you are going through.
- You do recover.
Secondary physical injuries are a bit more difficult to manage.
Secondary physical injuries usually accompany other physical injuries and often are the result of our bodies balancing out the first injury, leaning on the healthy leg if you have a leg injury, hand problems if you are using a walking aid (like a cane or a crutches), left arm pains if your injury is on the right and there are more than these. It is best to talk to your doctor and physiotherapist to discuss ways of managing or mitigating these forms of secondary injury.
If you have a psychological injury then physical injury can also accompany it, this is not always acknowledged but it is true and makes sense if you think about it. Most psychological injuries equate to a loss of movement, loss of physical health accompanies that, muscle retention isn’t where the brain is focusing its time. The relationship between psychological health and physical health has been well documented by medical researchers and most if not all psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors understand it and can assist you in preventing or mitigating it.
It takes time and effort but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but just like a tunnel it is a different landscape. Recovery is a fluid concept; “getting over it” is a useless one. What happens is that people incorporate what has happened (it’s what we do with our experiences without thinking about it). That will equate to a new “normal” for you, a normal that hopefully you will be content with.
As always talk to your doctor, psychologist and other medial professional before taking the advice from this site. If they have a different view than you’ve read here. Believe them, they are the experts.