How to exercise for fast recovery from an injury
(Chiropractic Corner column, The Portugal News, 12/2/16)
Our life is sailing along just fine, we are doing the things we love, and then a bend or twist, and suddenly…. OUCH!! IT happens, we’ve injured some part of ourselves. There is pain and swelling with loss of movement. You see a Chiropractor for a few adjustments or Physical Therapist for a few sessions, who helps you get through the first stages of recovery… but somehow, things are not getting better fast enough. Something is missing.
I too often see patients and athletes who have had an injury, recover from the initial pain and inflammation, then really struggle with returning their injured body part to full strength. Or worse, suffer a re-injury and have to begin the process all over again.
This can be very frustrating, and lead to recurring injuries to the same area. Many people suffer from life-long recurrent sprained ankles or lower back pain that just doesn’t go away.
If we take a page from high-level sports medicine helping elite athletes and how they get back into the game quickly, we can use a few simple tricks which can help us regain our full potential. The secret? Slow and easy….
Movement of the area early and often, but gently, helps blood permeate the area increasing nutrition to speed healing. Movement also ‘teaches’ the new cells mending the micro-tears how they are going to be used in the future, giving a more functional mend.
After the downtime of an injury, when we are relatively inactive, we are recovering from two things: 1) the injury itself, and 2) de-conditioning of the area due to lack of activity. Studies show a normally active person who refrains from their activity for one week loses 10 percent of their strength gains… 10% in ONE WEEK! It’s one of the reasons astronauts returning from space struggle to walk when back on Earth; it’s also why our muscles shrink while wearing a cast.
Regular exercise vs. Rehabilitation exercise. All exercise is a simple balance between Activity Level & Number of Repetitions. The higher the activity the fewer the repetitions we can perform, the lower the activity the more repetitions are possible. Think… Running vs Walking.
How do we use this to recover faster? If we injure our knee, we don’t begin re-strengthening with fast running… instead, we first begin walking = low activity level, and as we get stronger we walk further and further, with more steps = more repetitions. It is safer and helps the knee gradually get stronger, less chance of re-injury. Later, we may lightly run, and then run faster or lift weights (high activity, lower repetitions). If we apply the same idea to other body parts, lower back, neck, arms and shoulders, we get the same good results of faster recovery with less chance of re-injury.
We should only exercise to 60-80% of what the injured thing can tolerate; not to the level of surrounding healthy strong muscles. Studies also find… beginning with easy exercise for the first couple of weeks, followed by more intense workouts, patients catapult far ahead of patients who initially began with heavy exercise. The easy exercise group had almost no re-injury, whereas heavy exercise group had far higher rates of re-injury. Take your time, go easy, have fun, and you’ll get there faster!
Most of the time, these simple exercises are easy to integrate into our day, lots of repetitions, with no time lost! If you have a wrist or elbow injury, by using a water-filled 1/2 liter soft drink bottle, simply flex and extend the wrist/elbow while watching TV or talking on the phone. Easy. Sprained ankle? Trace out the letters of the alphabet with your foot… while watching TV. Sprained Sacro-Iliac joint? Squeeze the muscles around the area while standing in a queue!
As an Olympic team doctor, I have helped many many elite athletes return to their high-level competition with these simple guidelines. It can take many months of training to again compete at a world class level. Fortunately, most of us do not need to recover to an extreme level, we just want to get on with our lives and activities, which we can do in a few short weeks.
A true story…. some years back there was a very fit high-level athlete who injured his back while competing. He thought because he was so fit he didn’t need to follow the recommendations of his doctors and returned to his sport as fast as he could. Unfortunately, his game suffered, as did his back, and needed surgery. Again, didn’t take time for sensible rehab, returned to competition, surgery again… His name…. Tiger Woods. You can read all over the internet, ‘didn’t take the time to recover properly’, ‘did too much too soon’, also ‘needed more rehabilitation before golfing’.
We should all learn from Tiger… s-l-o-w is… the new fast !
Please call today for an appointment and we can help you get better fast!
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