It’s well known that athletes hide injuries, but they’re not the only group known to do this. Performers like dancers keep injury secrets, and so do workers in all types of jobs. These groups might seem diverse, but they have a lot in common when we look at the reasons that they might hide or avoid reporting injuries.
Stigma is the first reason people hide injuries. There have been big improvements in the culture around sports, performing arts, and worker’s comp, but some people still have the old “no pain, no gain” attitude. To some people, reporting an injury feels like an act of weakness, or a way of letting the team down. In addition to this internal pressure, there can also be external pressure from coaches, parents, teammates, supervisors, or fans to keep playing or working.
The second reason people hide injuries is because they’re afraid of what they’ll lose. With the focus on head injuries in recent years, athletes that get hit in the head know if they report concussion symptoms, they’ll be coming out of the game. Workers who get hurt on the job fear loss of pay, or loss of their job. Performers who get hurt might fear that their replacement will outshine them on the stage and take their place for future performances.
When it comes to reporting injuries, athletes have a third incentive not to report being hurt – competitive advantage. If an opposing team knows a player is injured, and what the injury is, they might be able to take advantage of it. For example, if a football team has a running quarterback that has an ankle injury, it will change how the opposing defense plays.
These reasons all make some intuitive sense, but they’re also all shortsighted. Finishing a game, dancing one more night, or working one more shift is never worth your long-term health. Hiding a minor injury can turn it into a major one. Minor muscle/tendon strains that cause pain can progress into more significant damage to tissue that ultimately limits strength and endurance. Repetitive stress issues can progress to become bony stress fractures. Issues that mildly limit mobility and/or balance can increase the likelihood of falls or other mishaps that might result in more severe injury – for the individual or in some cases also to others with whom they are playing, working, or performing. It is well-documented across medical specialties that early intervention for injury and for illness is ultimately less costly in terms of time off and resources spent than caring for a more chronic or long-term issue. Often, receiving treatment for a minor issue might only require a couple of visits to a physical therapist and minimal ‘downtime’ before normal activity can be resumed. In many instances, it is also possible for a PT or other health-care provider to recommend adding a brace or a support or to make minimal modifications to activity in order to actually keep people involved in their normal activities while at the same time protecting an injured area.
It should never be perceived as ‘weak’ to report an injury and you are not letting your teammates, or coworkers down by addressing an issue that could become more problematic for you or for everyone if left untended. If you’re not up to your best, you owe it to yourself to seek assistance and prevent additional or progressive issues. If you’re injured, don’t hide it! Let the right people know, then go to the right person for help – your physical therapist!