Even a slight injury like a mild ankle sprain or shin splint can sideline your workout or training routine drastically. While an individualized treatment and recovery plan might be strategized with your doctor, there are a handful of key actions to always keep in mind to bolster your body’s natural healing abilities.
Ever heard of the the RICE injury treatment plan? Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This go-to recovery tactic is an easy one to remember and naturally effective at supporting the body while it heals damaged tissue.
Recovery from an injury absolutely requires rest. Not complete and total prolonged bed rest by any means, but essentially giving your body a break from the typical sports play and workouts.
Compression and elevation can help fight painful inflammation and even reduce redness and tenderness around the affected area of a torn ligament or strained tendon.
The best way to encourage yourself to rest when all you want to do is get up and go is to bide your time elsewhere. Find a yoga class you can take part in that won’t exacerbate your injury, see a movie, call your mom, discover a new hobby, and just fight the urge to “suck it up” and work out through pain.
Without rest, not only can you prolong recovery, but you can cause further damage and significantly extend your timeline to resuming normal activity.
You likely know all about refueling with protein and hydrating liquids following an intense workout or weight lifting circuit, but can you feed your body to assist with injury recovery?
Absolutely. Just as your body is repairing torn muscle tissue after a workout, it uses the same immune response to heal damaged tissue after an injury.
Protein plays a critical role in this response so incorporating more lean meats, cottage cheese, whey, legumes, eggs, milk, nuts, and seeds into your diet is going to be important.
Additional nutrients like zinc and Vitamin C equip the body with the tools it needs to heal faster as well. Zinc stimulates cell division and growth as well as supports a strong immune system, and can be found in foods like seafood, spinach, dark chocolate, and flax seeds.
Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron as well as form proteins which are needed to rebuild vascular tissue, skin, and ligaments.
Stock up on citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits for your Vitamin C fix as well as bell peppers and broccoli.
Cross training? What about that whole “rest” thing? Well, when normal training isn’t feasible but cross training is, it introduces beneficial fitness to a body in convalescence.
While cross training may be defined as learning more than one role or sport/exercise to improve performance in the original, when it comes to aiding an injury, cross training provides an outlet for maintaining activity levels without exacerbating an existing injury.
Depending on the severity of a foot or leg injury, runners who can’t hit the trail for awhile can benefit from cycling or treadmill work. Injured swimmers may tackle indoor rowing to avoid further shoulder or arm injury but still maintain some upper body strength and tone.
An essential component of the RICE treatment, and likely the first thing you go for when you notice swelling of an injury, ice therapy is an interesting one.
Did you know that the application of an ice pack to your body actually slows the conductivity of nerve endings, stops any nerve spasming that was sending pain signals back to your brain, and thus temporarily numbs the area?
This analgesic effect is the key to quick pain relief when you’re wincing and and struggling to go about normal activity.
Ice packs, ice massage, and even ice baths also constrict blood vessels to the area of application, narrowing them and slowing down blood flow to prevent further swelling.
When the ice treatment is removed, not only do underlying tissues warm up, but whoosh!, blood rushes back in rich with oxygen and nutrients and flushes out built-up waste products and lactic acid, giving the tissue proteins all the fuel they need to get to work on repair.
The ice packs should never make direct contact with skin, but rather be applied with a barrier like clothing or a towel. You should also apply ice packs only 10 to 20 minutes at a time, three to five times a day for optimal results.
Heat therapy should only be conducted once ice therapy has reduced inflammation, typically 48 to 72 hours post initial injury.
The frustration of taking time “off” to heal while your fitness gets put on hold can be overwhelming. You might imagine your physique deteriorating because you are unable to maintain your normal level of intense training or workout.
Stress sets in and makes muscles tense and sore. Your regular kick of endorphins from daily exercise diminishes, and an air of negativity seems to follow you around.It’s easy to get bogged down mentally by an injury, and that is why mindset plays such an important role in recovery.
A positive mood combined with a motivational outset to healing can empower you to keep up with healthy behaviors like eating right and self-care which ultimately benefit your overall well being.
Simple mood boosters might include yoga, cooking, aromatherapy, coloring, catching up with old friends, volunteering and massage. Massage was actually shown in a 2012 study to not only help reduce inflammation in sore muscles, but to stimulate mitochondria, the energy sources for cells which are essential to function and repair.
Injury doesn’t have to be a death sentence to your fitness routine. And recovery won’t always require invasive procedures or pharmacological intervention. Staying active while prioritizing positive thinking, eating right, rest, and self-care can actually speed up recovery times and empower your future training with a newfound appreciation for your own body.