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'Tough Guy' Mentality Keeps Athletes in Denial About Pain

canoers rowing

FRIDAY, Oct. 23, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A culture of toughness and resilience is encouraged among elite college rowers, but it can keep them from reporting injuries, a new study finds.

There's an overall myth among athletes that admitting pain is a sign of weakness and failure, the researchers said.

Irish and Australian rowers in this study felt compromised by lower back pain, which is common in the sport, the study authors said. But many felt that the sporting culture didn't allow them to be open and honest about their pain for fear of exclusion.

Also, many felt they had to keep competing and training even when in pain. This might have increased the risk of poor outcomes from their pain, and poor emotional and mental experiences they had, according to the report.

Rowers who have lower back pain can feel isolated and it can affect their lives beyond sport, the researchers noted.

"This study presents a powerful message that athletes fear being judged as weak when they have pain and injury. They feel isolated and excluded when injured. They feel that there is a culture within sport that values them only when they are physically healthy. This leads athletes to hide their pain and injury, which is likely to lead to poorer outcomes," said researcher Dr. Fiona Wilson. She's an associate professor of physiotherapy at the School of Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin.

"Our findings will impact not just rowers but any athlete who has experienced pain and injury, allowing their perspective to be considered," Wilson said in a college news release. "This will lead to the design of more tailored injury management programs and will also crucially create a sporting environment where an athlete's physical health and welfare is at the core."

The report was published online Oct. 9 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

More information

For more on lower back pain, head to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

SOURCE: Trinity College Dublin, news release, Oct. 9, 2020
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