How to Cope With the 5 Stages of Injury Grief

The Stage: Bargaining

Just Let Me Exercise: When injured athletes finally confront their injury, they sometimes become too gung-ho. "You think, I'll do more rehab, more often, more reps, more weights, and then I'll get back to running sooner," Wiese-Bjornstal says. "But more isn't always better."

In Frey's case, she began to scramble to fix the problem, seeing an extensive circuit of doctors to get second, third, and fourth opinions. "That, in itself, was draining," she says. "I panicked."

Move On: Taking action to fix your problem is good, but don't go overboard. "You can't microwave healing," Taylor says. "You have to slow bake it."

Obey your rehab prescription the same way you would a training program. (You wouldn't do three long runs in one week, would you?) "If rehab goes well, you can come back a better athlete," Taylor says. "Don't jeopardize that ultimate goal."

More: 5 People to Call When Injured

The Stage: Depression

What's The Point?: Wiese-Bjornstal's research shows that athletes with severe injuries that require long amounts of downtime are likely to linger in this stage. The enthusiasm you initially had for your rehab routine fades. You miss the endorphin fix running provided, and you feel cut off from the running and racing community.

Move On: Fill your newfound downtime with other activities that help fill the void of running. Schedule time consuming sports you enjoy but can't fit in when you're training—as long as they don't exacerbate your injury—golf, say, or leisurely bike tours.

Stay connected to the running community: Cycle alongside friends on their long runs; invite your running buddies to a yoga class you've started taking; volunteer at a race.

More: 5 Ways to Run Past Your Mental Blocks


It's Working!: "This is when you are properly sticking with your rehab plan and you're seeing progress," Taylor says. You've accepted the injury, and also that you'll eventually be back on your feet.

Coming to this mindset is critical to recovery. Research shows a direct relationship between stress and injury. Anxiety can cause muscle tension and suppress immune function, which can delay how quickly you get better. In this stage, you have a peaceful mindset that encourages healing.

After faltering her way through these stages, Frey says she's confident that if confronted with an injury again, she'd reach acceptance—and recovery—sooner.

It was a hard lesson to learn: She was the 10th fastest woman going into the 2008 Trials, but ultimately placed 85th. Her sights are now set on the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. By listening to her body, and not lingering in denial, she's hoping to avoid the grief of injury.

More: Runner's Guide to Injury Treatment and Prevention

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