Add as bookmark

Sports Injuries: Healing the Memory

by Joseph O'Connor and Ian McDermott(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 17 - January 1997

This article comes from direct and painful experience. Joseph developed tennis elbow from playing squash last summer. Tennis elbow is one of the commoner sports injuries; it is caused by overstretching or twisting the tendons where they insert into the elbow joint. It led to painful inflammation of his right elbow, and meant not only was he unable to play squash, but could not grip anything with his right hand or lift any weight without pain for some weeks.

Sports injuries such as tennis elbow (which can be caused by many sports including golf, cricket and squash), Achilles tendon injuries to the back of the foot, damage to knee ligaments and cartilage happen at every level of sport. They are caused by overuse, overstretching, or sudden unusual force to that part of the body. They are painful and debilitating, and can stop an athlete from competing for some time.

Athletes at every level often feel they cannot, or do not want to take the time out of their sport for the injury to fully heal and these injuries are often aggravated by symptomatic treatment. When the pain subsides, the athlete plays again, but if the trauma is not sufficiently healed then it will recur, perhaps more seriously. If this cycle continues, it can lead to increasing pain, the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, and perhaps in the last resort, to surgery.

There is a great deal of use and interest in mental training in sports at the moment, top athletes often have their personal mental coach, but there does not seem to be the same interest using the mind to help heal sports injury, instead mental power seems to be harnessed entirely towards gritting your teeth and playing on through the pain.

Mental techniques involving visualization have been used in medicine as far back as recorded history, and are the subject of increasing interest and research, indeed there is a whole new medical field of psychoneuroimmunology that explores the influence of the mind and surroundings on the immune system. We will outline a process that anyone can use to help their body heal a sports injury, or indeed any physical trauma. It is based on the fact that the body and mind are one system, they are inseparable and mutually affect each other.

Depression can cause physical illness, and physical illness certainly changes your thoughts – no-one would care to make an important decision when ill with 'flu. Imagine eating a lemon vividly enough and you will salivate. When you remember a memory of an embarrassing incident, it makes you wince again – the thought is held in the physiology of the body. Imagine a good experience and you will re-experience the pleasure. Just as our minds hold pictures and sounds as memories, so our bodies seem to hold memories in the muscles and tendons. This process aims to help the body heal by changing the memory of the incident.

When we change the mental representation of the injury, we are bound to affect the body, just as when you come to terms with an embarrassing incident, it no longer makes you wince when you think about it. With the memory no longer held in the body, in the same way, it can heal more quickly and easily. This process is based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP is the study of how we build our subjective experience, how we use our senses and memories to build own unique world of experience. NLP does not claim to have the right way to think, but it does claim to enhance those ways you already use. This process is offered as another choice, and is not a replacement for physical and medical treatment of sports injuries. It complements them. We believe physical treatment is important and may be necessary. Joseph had a number of physiotherapy sessions on his arm as well as using this process together with other NLP and visualization techniques. His arm is healed and he is playing squash again better than ever. This doesn't prove the efficacy of the process, of course, but he has no doubt that it helped.

We will describe this process as if you are working with a client, but it is just as easy to do with yourself, and it does not need to be restricted to sports injuries.

1. Ask the client to see themselves back in the situation where they injured themselves. It is really important that they are dissociated, that is, they are seeing themselves, and not back in the memory seeing out of their own eyes. An associated memory is one where they are back inside the memory, seeing what they saw then, hearing what they heard then. An associated memory brings back the feelings and you do not want to do this. A dissociated memory leaves the feelings in the picture at arm's length. Make sure they stay dissociated throughout this first step. A good way to do so is to ask them to imagine someone had recorded the incident on video and to watch the video now in complete comfort, almost as if it is someone else on the screen.

2. Ask them to watch the video of the whole incident from just before they were injured to just after. When they have done so, distract them and get them to come out of the memory. By so doing, you ensure they change state.

3. Ask them to go back and run the memory again dissociated, and freeze the last frame of the video as a still picture.

4. Now ask them to step into that final picture so they are back in the memory seeing what they saw then. They are now associated. Ask them to run the video backwards to before the injury occurred. Stop them when they reach the point before the injury occurred. Bring them fully out of the memory, so they change state.

5. Repeat this associated backwards rerun three or four times, faster and faster each time, and distract them between each rerun, so they start afresh at the end each time. They must not loop forwards through the memory to get to the end. If this happens, it cancels the effect of running it backwards. It may help if they add some sound as they do this, so they breathe out during each backwards rerun. It should only take a moment after the third or fourth repetition. If the person has difficulty, explain they do not need to see any detail, but only get a sense of running through the incident backwards very quickly.

Half a dozen repetitions will reformat the memory of the incident, and ensure that it is not held in their body as before. It also takes the memory back to before the incident occurred. However, you cannot just scramble a memory without replacing it with another clear, positive memory. So, ask them what they were trying to accomplish in that incident. They were clearly not trying to hurt themselves! They will probably describe the shot or stroke they were trying to make. Whatever it was, ask them to imagine themselves doing it perfectly on video. Get them to watch themselves on a mental screen playing the shot exactly the way they wanted to do it – without injury. When they are perfectly satisfied, have them step into the memory and replay the shot as an associated memory in just the way they would have wanted it. Have them do this several times.

Now, not only have you taken away the power of the original memory, but you have installed a new memory, and a much healthier one. Of course, the injury is not going to go away so easily, but you have removed an important element from the experience. Finally ask them what they have learned from the injury. There should be some positive learning to ensure they do not go and do the same thing again. From here you can use other visualization techniques to speed healing. This process only takes a few minutes, is easy and intuitive and we believe it makes a difference.

We are now in the process of setting up a project to test the effectiveness of this process and other methods of speeding healing using NLP. Clients who have sports injuries will be seen and evaluated by a physiotherapist. We will then work with one group of athletes using this process and other similar processes. A second, control group will have no treatment. A week later, all the athletes will be evaluated again by the physiotherapist, who will not know who has had treatment and who has not, to evaluate their progress given the initial evaluation. The athletes themselves will also report on how they feel, and then we can draw some conclusions on what difference, if any, there is between the groups.

If you are interested in the sports injury project, and would like to have further details, contact Joseph: c/o Lambent Training, 4 Coombe Gardens, New Malden, Surrey KT3 4AA. Tel: 0181 715 2560 Fax 0181 715 2560.

To learn how to use NLP for a wide range of health issues contact: International Teaching Seminars, 73 Brook Road, London, N16 7RD. Tel 0181 442 4133 Fax 0181 442 4155.

If you are interested in this approach to health, see NLP and Health by Ian McDermott and Joseph O'Connor (Thorsons 1996).

© copyright 1996 Joseph O'Connor and Ian McDermott


  1. No Article Comments available

Post Your Comments:

top of the page