Goal Setting for Pain and Injury Recovery

01 February 2018

Goal Setting for Pain and Injury Recovery

Having a goal or set of goals is a really useful tool for recovery from injury or pain. It allows you to focus on the specific changes and things you need to do to get where you want to be and minimises the distractions that can be a cause of not achieving your aim.

With this article I want to highlight a few helpful issues with goal setting to make sure you get the best from the process and help you as much as possible.

1.  Have a goal that is individual to you

Make your goal or goals really personal not one that is shared by friends and family. A goal that is not entirely yours to control can be victim to luck or circumstance.

This is particularly true when we are recovering from injury or pain. A goal of being pain free is a shared goal and not individual to you. As a physio I always want all clients to be free from pain, all family members and friends hope you are pain free but pain is a normal and healthy part of life and nobody will go through life completely pain free.

Make your goal have a meaning to you. A person recovering from back pain may be unhappy that they are not able to walk with their family for longer or be able to lift their child. These may be really meaningful goals, are completely within your power to influence and ones that will give a real feeling of improvement when they are achieved. These are just examples – your goals will be personal to you.

Be sure you have a goal and not a dream.


2.   Light your fire

A good goal should make you feel a bit excited to get going and achieve it. Take time to imagine what life would be like if you could walk further or more often with your family, or pick up your child. What benefits would you gain? Independence? Enjoyment of life? These answers will be unique to you and your situation.

As you get going on achieving your goal find a phrase that reflects the benefits you will gain from achieving your goal and repeat it to yourself. This will keep in mind the reason you started the process and when you have times when the motivation is harder to find, as we all do, you have a ready reminder to reassure yourself, fire you up,  and get you back on track.


3.  Big goals are achieved in small steps

By far the biggest chunk of your effort should go into completing each individual step along the way to your goal. Focus on each step and the end result will take care of itself.

For recovery from injury you may decide that being able to complete 10 repetitions of a particular exercise is your goal or having better focus on deep breathing when you move. If you can focus on these small steps and your progression, the improvement will naturally follow.

These small steps will quickly add up to greater gains and if your ultimate goal is big and seems far away, it is much easier to concentrate on a small chunk.

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones” Chinese Proverb


4.   Achieving anything worthwhile is hard

Take a moment when setting your goals to imagine what could get in the way of you taking the necessary steps to achieving them.

Such things may be work commitments, spending time with your family, a pre-existing illness that may disrupt your plans.

Try to work out how you will deal with those situations and how you will get back to your plan as soon as you can. A bad day here or there is normal and will not have any effect on the overall progress. An illness or more extended time away from working towards your goal may need a tweak in your approach to get back on track. Prepare for as many eventualities as you can imagine so that the more common ones don’t derail your achievement. Having a good plan for adversity takes away a lot of the worry as you can just follow the plan to get back to it.


5.  Don’t be afraid to fail

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” Henry Ford

You don’t often get information on setting goals, improving performance and outcomes that mentions failure. Think positively and don’t even think of failing right? Well not quite.

Nothing removes motivation quite like not achieving a dream you have set your hopes on. Even if you find more motivation after a failure it is possible to be so focused on the goal that your attention is not on what you need to do to achieve it. There is a large body of research showing that fixing on an important outcome takes energy away from actually doing what is necessary to achieve it, making failure more likely. We can actually sabotage our own outcomes.

Nobody has ever succeeded at everything they have tried to achieve. Be aware that you will fail at some things and try to see it as a chance to learn.

-Was the goal the right one for you?

-Is there a step or steps in between where you are and the goal you missed?

-Do you need to learn a new skill to help achieve his goal? 

-Did you focus more on the result and not the individual steps required?

There are many lessons to learn from failure that will make your next try more likely to succeed.

Prepare to be ok with not achieving your goal, Not happy about it, but ok with it. And prepare for how you will then try again to do better next time. The perfect goal is achievable but will demand your full commitment to get there. This is true of any situation and any stage of recovery from injury or pain.


I hope this helps to give you some ideas of how you can better plan your recovery from your injury or pain condition. If you need any help or guidance along the way please do get in touch and we can help with advice or treatment as you require.

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