Mother Nature has her own timeframe for when you’re going to heal. You can, however, get out of Mother Nature’s way and set your body up for optimal healing by providing the right conditions. Having helped thousands of patients heal from a variety of injuries, traumas and surgeries, we have distilled the top eight ways to facilitate the healing process:
1. Don’t do everything. I recently had a telehealth session via Zoom with someone in California. He had undergone a hip replacement, had been through a course of physical therapy, and wanted to get back in shape. He had an entire litany of exercises he was doing which took two hours per day. He said he was pretty sore and wanted some exercises to reduce his soreness. It can be difficult for super motivated individuals to do less, not more. The saying, “Do as little as necessary, not as much as possible” is useful here. During the rehab process, do enough to give your body the right stimulus, but don’t do so much that you are working against yourself.
2. Be patient. Many of my patients are referred by a friend who has had success under my care. Sometimes they expect that years of pain and discomfort will magically disappear after one visit. Unfortunately I don’t have a magic wand, spells, or any other tricks to change degenerative joints, strained muscles and injured body parts overnight. I can often reduce pain quickly, but the battle is far from over. Healing and strengthening tissues takes time, resilience, and it takes the just the right amount of stress that I call the ‘goldilocks zone.’ You need to be patient. There will be difficulties, setbacks and successes along the way, but if you stay focused on your goals, your chances for long-lasting success will be much greater.
3. You don’t need to cause pain to make improvements. The mantra, ‘No pain, no gain’ is not applicable in most rehabilitation situations. In fact, exercises should be provided to aid the relief of pain. You want to add an appropriate amount of stress while mitigating an excessive pain response. When you feel pain during an exercise or activity, there is a threat associated with it and a result, your body goes into protective mode and cultivates fear of this activity. This will work against you in the long run. It’s better to slowly but surely make progress. Don’t listen to friends or family members who have their own opinion on how quickly you should progress; instead take things slowly and listen to your body. Some days will be better than others –– and this is okay. It’s important to stand back periodically and look at the general trend. If you’re better now than you were a month ago, then you’re on the right track. There are a few exceptions to this rule such as when using the Alfredsson protocol for tendon injuries. In these cases if you’re not inducing pain, you’re not achieving the maximum benefit based on the research.
4. Make sure you consume enough calories. When injured, your body needs adequate nourishment. Anyone who’s normally active has a general tendency to cut back on calories to not add additional weight while being more sedentary. However, you need at least 10% more calories than if you were sedentary because the healing process requires work from your body.
5. Make sure you get enough protein in your diet. You don’t need to consume your total daily protein requirements all at once, but try to spread it out throughout the day. I’ve experimented with all kinds of diets which I will detail in another post. As a general guideline, I’d recommend at least two grams per day of protein, per kilogram of body weight.
6. Cut back on alcohol consumption. It’s challenging not to imbibe when you are not as active. I like a glass of wine or whiskey every once in a while, but if I’m injured, this privilege goes out the door. Alcohol can reduce muscle protein synthesis, increase inflammation, and impair the healing process. I dealt with a tendon injury in my finger a few years ago and noticed it would get more inflamed if I had a drink in the evening, so I stopped drinking completely for about three months; it was worth it.
7. Make sure you get sufficient omega three fatty acids. It’s recommended to start these after you are out of the acute inflammatory phase, which is usually 72 hours post-injury. Omega three fatty acids have been proven to reduce inflammation. Excellent sources are salmon, sardines, cod liver oil, and walnuts.
8. Get more Vitamin D. This is an essential nutrient for proper immune system function. We rarely consider the immune system as part of the injury repair process, but it cleans up and monitors the injury site, and lays the foundation for new tissue growth. Higher levels of Vitamin D are associated with improved recovery of strength after a muscle injury. Good, natural sources of Vitamin D are salmon, sardines, egg yolks, and wild mushrooms.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.