Whether you’d class it as an injury or not, we’ve all had aches and pains at some point – some are short lived, some come and go and others linger. But why is recovery so variable? Can we speed it up and if so, how?
It would be amazing if the body was straightforward, following a set course. In some ways it is – biology is largely predictable, taking a set amount of time to do a set amount of actions. The big thing that affects this is what we do and the conscious decisions we make. Given the chance, our bodies can recover from most things but the issue is, are we giving it a chance? Without the right factors, our recovery can wax and wane, making us frustrated and keeping us away from what we enjoy doing for even longer. Here are some of the biggest factors affecting how we recover:
This is by far one of the most commonly overlooked factors. We all know we should be getting eight hours of quality sleep a night but many of us don’t know why. When we drift into deep sleep, our brain releases growth hormone helps with the rebuilding of soft tissues such as muscles. Blood flow to our muscles is also increased when we sleep, which brings oxygen and nutrients to our muscles, allowing further healing. Finally, a hormone called prolactin is also released, which helps to regulate inflammation. All of these are so important to recovery so try to sleep well if you can! (And don’t feel bad if you can’t, I’ve got some sleep tips coming up soon!).
We all know protein is a staple for body builders and athletes, but it’s also really important for those who are injured. Injured muscles, tendons and ligaments are rebuilt using protein fibres so if your diet is low in protein, there’s a good chance it will affect your recovery. I’m not saying to stuff your diet with eggs, red meat and fish, but a healthy portion of protein across the day will give your body the fuel it needs to recover (although all components of your diet are super important of course!).
The reality is, things take a little longer as we get older and one of those things is recovery from injury. This is not to say you’ll never get better (a vast majority of people do!) but like wrinkles on our skin, wear and tear and scar tissue are normal age-related changes that may have an impact on how your body responds to injury. Be patient and get the advice and support you need to help.
What steps you’ve taken to recover
People often think RICE when they’re injured (rest, ice, compress, elevate). This is a starting point but misses a big part of the story. Hands on treatment from a qualified professional can really help to speed your recovery along…as long as it’s the right treatment! Soft tissue injuries in particular respond really well to graduated load, which rather throws the ‘rest’ part of RICE into question. Get yourself a qualified professional who will give you things to do outside the treatment room as this is just as important (if not more so) than hands on treatment. If your therapist isn’t giving you homework, they’re missing a big part of the story, but more on that another time!
The injury itself
This seems obvious but a lot of people don’t acknowledge how different injuries respond differently to treatment. For example, muscle sprains recover quicker than tendon strains as muscles are better supplied by blood vessels. Dislocations often take longer than fractures to heal as more muscles, tendons and ligaments are often affected in a dislocation. Hurting your shoulder may take longer to recover than a finger injury as it’s a bigger joint. Getting the right diagnosis can make a massive difference to how you view your recovery – have the right people on your team and you’ll soar.
There is of course a whole mental side to recovery that we haven’t even discussed but again, that’s a conversation for another day. But hopefully this has given you some answers to why and how your body recovers in the way that it does. Best of luck!