Sports injuries can be frustrating, feeling like a major setback when they prevent you from training and playing. However if you’re injured you need to take the proper time and effort to ensure full recovery before getting back in the game. If you don’t there’s a high risk of further injury which could put you on the bench for good.
Here I’ll look at the key steps in injury recovering which will help you get back on track sooner rather than later:
R.I.C.E. stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and is the primary recommendation for injuries that don’t require medical attention.
Rest is the first step in any injury. Without rest you will only worsen your injury. The length of time you need to rest for will depend on the extent of your injury. I’ll talk later about beginning to exercise your injury.
Ice, compression and elevating the injured area (above the height of your heart) are all advised to reduce swelling. Swelling can be very painful as your nerve endings become confined. Swelling is the result of blood rushing to the injured area to begin healing. If you’re inactive after an injury it may be difficult for your body to circulate this blood away again, hence the need to elevate your injury above your heart, offering gravitational resistance.
There are a number of non prescription drugs that are useful for treating injuries. Aside from pain relief the other thing you may need is an anti-inflammatory. Remember though that inflammation is a natural part of the healing process. It is only if inflammation persists that you need to tackle it. The chemicals (substance P, calcitonin, histamines and cytokines) that your body sends to the injured area to begin the healing process register as pain with your pain receptors. Heat and redness is the result of extra blood at the site of injury which is supplying the materials to begin healing.
That said prolonged inflammation can cause your white blood cells to keep attacking the injured area. Over the counter drugs known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should then be used to reduce the inflammation and swelling.
Examples of NSAIDs are aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. It’s important to be aware that these tend to be quite harsh on your digestive system despite their anti-inflammatory properties. Make sure you take these after eating and never exceed the stated dose.
If necessary a steroid injection may be administered. This is usually a steroid known as cortisone which will reduce major swelling and lasts for weeks rather than hours.
After much rest, serious injury and surgery physiotherapy is usually required to regain full movement in the injured area. Scar tissue contracts over time so therapeutic exercise is necessary as early as possible in order to prevent shortening of this tissue which will restrict movement. Act quickly to reduce the amount of time scar tissue has to harden and muscle density has to shrink.
The science of physiotherapy, from Johannesburg to New York to Moscow, has gained popularity in the last 50 years and most people will have access to local sports injury specialists. Beginning physiotherapy early on in the healing process will allow you to get back to normal activity earlier too. In general it will be much more successful than when carried out on an old injury.
Initial movement or use of the injured body part will be assisted by you or your therapist, building up strength and stretching the stiffness out. Your exercises will progress with the aim of full, unassisted movement at the end. However, complicated injuries especially those that required surgery may require ongoing physiotherapy in order to play sports again.
Apart from classic injury treatment that focuses on the site of injury it is recognised that your overall health is important for a speedy recovery. What you eat is a big part of staying healthy so let’s look at how to eat right after an injury.
Omega-3 has anti-inflammatory powers. Sources include oily fish, nut butters, olive oil, flax and avocado. Avoid omega-6 as this has the opposite effect, irritating inflammations. So cut out corn and soy products as well as sunflower oil which are particularly high in omega-6.
Herbal supplements e.g. garlic or green tea pills also assist in natural healing of inflamed areas. These herbs usually need to be concentrated to maximise their benefits, hence taking supplementary versions.
Protein helps repair muscle damage by converting to amino acids. You need 20 to 30 grams of protein in each meal and snack. Lentils are especially high in protein with one portion giving you all the protein you need for that meal. Others sources include fish, eggs and white meat such as chicken.
Carbohydrates are necessary for energy. Don’t be tempted to snack on high sugar or fat foods while recuperating because you won’t be able to work these off. Instead choose slow burning carbs like whole grains and fresh fruit and veg.