Jeff Stickney, MD

Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon

(425) 823-4000

Contact Us/Make an appointment

Why Athletes Should Treat the Brain Like a Muscle


brain-as-muscleFor many people, one of the most frustrating aspects of recovering from surgery or an injury is returning to their former level of performance. To overcome these hurdles, champion athletes are honing a different muscle: their brain. By sharpening their confidence, motivation, and the mind-body connection, they’re able to surpass previous limits, and, now, research suggests this is a feasible option for amateur and casual athletes facing physical obstacles.

The Washington Post rounded up tips from former Olympic athletes, psychologists, and fitness experts about the best ways to train your brain to surpass your physical limits:

1. Stay positive
If you’re struggling with an exercise or activity after joint replacement surgery, it can be tempting to indulge in harsh self-talk. However, this can significantly impede your progress and fuel a cycle of negativity. Sports psychologist Justin Ross instead recommends writing down how you feel while exercising, when things became difficult, and how these feelings shaped your performance. Positive affirmations can also be a productive way to end an activity, reminding yourself of how much progress you’ve made and how much your body has accomplished.

2. Practice visualization
Take time to imagine what you’re going to do, whether that’s walking up a hill or running in a marathon, and focus on the positive outcomes. Joanna Zeiger, a former Olympic triathlete, suggests visualizing the moment when you reach your goal after all of your hard work. To ensure that becomes a reality, she also says to imagine worst-case scenarios to mentally prepare yourself for incidents and plan how you would overcome them.

3. Let yourself rest 
Treat the brain like you would any other muscle and give it time to rest and recover. Don’t stress if your performance didn’t match your goals, and don’t focus on the results every time you exercise. Given proper breaks, your brain can function at its optimal level and keep you positive, strong, and determined as you return to a regular exercise routine.

Suffering from joint pain? Dr. Stickney, a Kirkland orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert who specializes in procedures including ACL rehabilitation and total knee replacement, can help you find the surgical or nonsurgical option that will allow you to return to an active lifestyle.