Recovery not your friend? Here’s why!

How we recover from injury isn't ever what we expect. Here's why!

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: 

Sleep 

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!). 

Nutrition 

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!). 

Age  

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! 

Looking to start something new? Here’s how to stay pain free whilst doing it!

Coronavirus made many of us reconsider different aspects of our lives – what we really missed during lockdown, what makes us happy and how life could be different with a few adjustments. For some, these considerations included looking at what exercise we enjoy. With gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools being closed and team sports stopped, we had to find something else to get our hearts pumping faster. The internet and social media were full of home workouts and Couch to 5K and similar schemes became increasingly popular. It was so lovely to see so many of you getting involved with exercise, especially those of you who didn’t get a chance to do much before! And the bonus was I only had a handful of people who needed a hand with injuries! 

The question now is are you going to return to your old exercise or start something new? Either way is great but if it’s something new, here are some tips to keep you pain free and committed to your new found love! 

  1. Seek out a qualified – preferably recommended – trainer, instructor or team! This is a very important point. It is so easy to stumble across something that looks great but won’t feel great, particularly online. While a vast majority of the time you’ll be safe with the instructor you chose, with some sports or exercise regimes, instructors will have gone through less training than you would like to think. This is more concerning with online instruction as when you’re face to face, the instructor will be able to notice issues with form easier than when online. As I say, most are very good but try to get a personal recommendation where you can. 

  1. Do your own warm up, as well as the one in the class! This is particularly important if you’ve been given exercises by your osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor previously. Your exercises are specific to you so will help to warm up your specific injury areas and then the instructor’s warm up will work on the rest. 
  1. Rome wasn’t built in a day! Even the most elite athlete will take some time to get accustomed to a new form of exercise. Pace yourself and try to not get frustrated if you get things wrong. A large part of exercise is to calm us down mentally so the last thing you want is to stress yourself out more! Listen to the instruction provided and take your time to get to know the movements. 

  1. Ask questions! Before the class starts, try to introduce yourself to the instructor and tell them if you have any concerns or injuries. As a Pilates instructor, I can’t tell you how much better it is if I have all the information I need before starting a session than if it’s thrown at me half way through. It will help to keep you safe, more than anything! If something comes up during or after the class that you’re not sure about, ask questions. It’s a great opportunity for you to learn and your feedback will help the instructor too. 
  1. Enjoy it! Exercise is great for our mental health, as well as our physical health. Why do something voluntarily that you don’t enjoy? With many of us having access to the internet, if something doesn’t work for you, just go onto the next thing (particularly easy if you’re using workout classes on YouTube). I did this a lot during lockdown and now have a solid base of aerobic style classes and yoga instructors saved on my favourites. 

So there are my top tips for starting a new form of exercise – I hope they help! With so much choice out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed but remember, just because you start doing one form of exercise, doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. Enjoy yourself, let go of your inhibitions and get your body moving! 

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