In this Q&A, occupational therapy doctor Dr. There is Keagen Hadley.
As an athlete, Keagen tore ACLs playing both college and semi-pro football. This experience made him psychologically aware of the struggles associated with a post-ACL injury and how to overcome them with positive results.
Let’s explore the emotional consequences of physical injuries with someone who knows the experience firsthand…
BEVOYA: Can you talk about yourself? Where you live? What are your credentials? What kind of people do you work with?
Keagen: I am a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD, OTR/L) specializing in psychiatric conditions. In particular, I am dedicated to helping individuals recover psychologically and physically from joint injuries. This is mainly because I tore both my ACLs as an athlete, requiring 4 surgeries.
I currently live in Bismarck, North Dakota and enjoy working out and pushing my body to the limits. Between my girlfriend, working out, and writing, it’s all I do now, and I love it. My “day job” is Associate Director of Medical Writing at Supernus Pharmaceuticals. Basically, I manage or write a large number of products for submission to regulatory agencies (like the FDA). Although this may seem completely unrelated, I assure you it is not. Supernus only treats treatment-resistant depression, OCD, etc. focuses on neurological and psychiatric conditions such as
BEVOYA: How do people tend to find you?
KEAGEN: People generally find me or what I’m up to through word of mouth. I’m very active on LinkedIn, which definitely helps. I’ve started appearing on more and more podcasts with like-minded people to promote my upcoming book, The Torn: Overcoming Psychological Challenges After an ACL Injury. Finally, my blog and website recently launched and I post content several times a week on mental health, joint health, exercise technology, entrepreneurship, and personal development.
BEVOYA: Can you walk us through a typical experience you have with new patients/clients?
KEAGEN: When I work with new patients, I like to start by getting to know them and their goals. My clients often struggle with how to function optimally and manage a damaged life landscape. Many feel that they have lost their self-esteem and identity due to the injury.
My goal is to help clients use ACT to develop the skills they need to improve their physical rehabilitation and minimize the associated psychological impact on their lives. For example, a common problem with my clients is verbalizing severe combined thoughts that negatively affect how they see themselves because of the injury. Cognitive fusion is the process of thinking “I’m sad” or “I’m broken” rather than being able to understand “I feel sad” or “I feel broken.” While this may seem like a small and insignificant statement, it is only one of many steps on the road to psychological flexibility.
BEVOYA: Do you only work with ACL injuries? If not, what other injuries do you often see?
KEAGEN: I work primarily with ACL injuries due to the nature and length of the rehabilitation process. The reason these injuries are so debilitating is the long time it takes to heal. When you see a giant, seemingly “manly” NFL player crying after an ACL injury, I can assure you it’s not because of the pain, but because of the loss of what they love, football. They, like many athletes, are acutely aware of the extent of their injury and know that they will never be the same, so they lose the ability to define themselves as x, y, or z sports player.
In the future, I plan to work with the 30-70 age group as well, so that there is no need for total knee surgeries. This is another passion of mine and will probably become another book.
BEVOYA: What are some patterns you see in people with ACL injuries and personality struggles?
KEAGEN: There are several personality struggles that commonly come up in people who suffer from ACL injuries. First, many people tend to experience a great sense of loss or grief after an ACL injury. This is often complicated by the fact that they can no longer participate in activities that are central to their identity. For example, a former athlete may feel like they’ve lost a part of themselves after having to give up sports, even if it’s just for rehabilitation.
After an ACL injury, many people struggle to discover a new sense of purpose. This can be especially difficult for athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to their sport. If they can’t participate, they may feel like there’s no reason to exercise and stay fit.
Finally, many people with ACL injuries also struggle with body image issues. The injury can cause deformity and swelling, which can lead to self-consciousness and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance. Not only that, but if they were already prone to body dysmorphic thoughts, it would be compounded by not being able to function as rigorously as before.
BEVOYA: What advice do you have for people who have trouble accepting physical limitations and pain (a friend LOL please)?
KEAGEN: I would say that it is my personal belief that anyone, no matter where they start, can achieve great success with targeted and collaborative specific training. When I was 25, I spent weeks in the spring and was in severe pain due to my 4 surgeries. Now, a few months after 30, I can probably do more physically than before the operations. I attribute all of my success to incremental and scalable workouts that ANYONE can start. BUT in the meantime, psychologically, I would say it’s important to give yourself grace and understand that your body is going through a lot. Even with the right program, it will take months or years to get where you want to be. The real secret is learning to love where you are in the process.
The hardest part is finding the right process, and that’s what I want to provide to my clients, both psychologically and physically.