But even greater challenges often lie in the recovery process that follows. Isolation from teammates. Lost time on the training pitch. Fears over your next contract or even your career.
As well as medical treatment, players require good support and the right mindset to overcome such challenges, says Petr Cech, who can be viewed as a role model for athletes recovering from injury.
In a twenty-year professional career, the goalkeeper earned a record 124 caps for Czech Republic and won four Premier League titles and one Champions League with Chelsea, between spells at Chmel Blšany, Rennes, Sparta Prague, and Arsenal.
Cech overcame leg breaks, fractured shoulders, and many more injuries in his twenty-year professional career. But none shook the football world like the fractured skull he suffered as a Chelsea player.
After lengthy rehabilitation, Cech pioneered a protective helmet that would save his own career and help other professionals return safely to the field of play.
In a new book (and companion video below), he shares his secrets for bouncing back from injury, and teaches fellow professionals how to turn potentially devastating experiences into opportunities to develop.
“The first thing I do when I get injured, as a professional athlete, is say to the doctor: ’Don’t tell me what I can’t do, tell me what I can do,’” Cech reveals in The Secret Balance of CHAMPIONS: Health Challenges in Elite Sport.
“With whatever I am still able to do, I will make a training programme. Sometimes in these situations, when you view things in a positive way it can actually be a great lesson.”
In the video below, Cech passes on some of these lessons, including what a career-threatening injury during childhood taught him.
”I had a very bad injury when I was 10,” says Cech, who split playing time in midfield and keeping goal as a child. “I had a double fracture of my left leg.”
“I think this is where I realised you can actually do so many things even with a broken leg in terms of the training. If you concentrate on everything you can do, rather than what you can’t do, you can actually make a very good training session.”
The skull fracture Cech suffered as a Chelsea player was not his only injury during his time at the club.
He reveals another, almost unbelievable injury he played through while winning Premier Leagues and starring for Czech Republic in the 2006 World Cup.
”I had both broken shoulders when I started playing for Chelsea,” says Cech.
”The fact I played for a year and a half with both broken shoulders for a top club, winning two titles and playing in the World Cup is something I can be proud of.”
It’s another inspirational example for current professionals rehabilitating from surgery or serious injury.
”I wouldn’t recommend (playing with two broken shoulders),” says Cech. ”But it just shows there are possibilities if you look for them with a positive mind.”
Injuries may be inevitable in professional football but letting them beat you is not.
For athletes who wish for long sporting careers, adopting a mindset like Cech’s can be the secret to overcoming all manner of obstacles.
Injury might even provide a platform for future success, as it did for the 10-year-old Cech recovering from his broken leg.
“When the plaster came off, the difference between the two legs was quite shocking. I had a lot of pain for a long time and going back to playing in midfield was impossible,” says one of the finest goalkeepers in European history.
Chelsea fans are no doubt grateful for Cech’s solution-oriented mindset in what happened next.
”The decision was clear. I had to stay in goal, which turned out not to be such a bad destiny.”