By WIN Provider: Jeff Dill, Physiotherapist


Mentally tough. Go-getter. Optimistic.  Glass half full.

Have any of these terms been used to describe you or your personality?

If they have, you are probably the kind of individual who always tries to find the positive in a situation and doesn’t give up in the face of adversity.

Great news! Emerging research shows positive mindset and mental toughness can assist us when recovering after an injury or surgery!

What exactly does the research show, and how can you use it to assist in your recovery journey?

Let’s discuss.

A recent 2021 study looked at 49 patients who underwent surgery to repair a full- or partial-thickness rotator cuff tear (in the shoulder)[1].  All the surgeries were performed by the same surgeon (which is important). The assessment tests were performed 4 years after the surgery date.

The main purpose of the study was to look at a specific outcome measure, the “Life Orientation Test-Revised” (LOT-R).  They studied how it compared to other markers looking at shoulder function and pain levels.

The LOT-R test measures an individual’s inherent level of optimism, and tendencies towards having a positive outlook.

So, what the study authors were trying to determine was if there was any correlation between an individual’s inherent level of optimism and how well they recovered after their surgery, as measured through pain and function.

Now for the great news…

The authors found a statistically significant effect of optimism on the recovery process.

Essentially, the more optimistic & positive a person was, the less pain they experienced and the greater function they ultimately attained after surgery!!

Although this was just one study, it shines light on the significant impact our minds can have on our recovery journeys.

So, what does this mean for you?

Well, if you are currently undergoing rehab for an injury, try these mental switches:

  • Focus on the positive: think about what you CAN still do, NOT what you can’t
  • Celebrate the “little” milestones along the way: being able to sit up from a chair without pain; being able to wash your hair, do up a bra, reach to the top cupboard for the first time since your injury
  • If you experience a little flare-up in pain during your rehab process, accept it, and do not let it re-frame your mental outlook. 90% of patients will experience flare ups during the recovery process; look back over the last 24 hours and you will usually find a (correctable) reason:
    • stayed up later than usual = more tired = more sensitive to discomfort
    • used the affected area more than usual
    • had a stressful day at work
  • Take 20-30 minutes, or more, out of every day to do something that truly makes you HAPPY. This is something that we often overlook. We get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life that we often neglect doing things that truly make us feel good.  This could be going to the gym, reading a book, taking a nap.  Whatever it is, try to do it everyday. This will assist to lower your stress levels and make you more likely to be in a positive mindset.


Whether you are going through a rehab journey or not, start to focus on the positives, as no matter what the situation is.

There is always something beneficial we can learn from it…sometimes we just have to look a little harder. 🙂



[1] Porter, Ariel, et al. “Resiliency influences postoperative outcomes following rotator cuff repair.” Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 2021, 2021.