Food for Thought: What's Going On in Your Body While You're Recovering from Injury

The following is a to the point read from puori.

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At some point in our lives, we will likely suffer an exercise-induced injury. Runners, for example, are incredibly prone to muscle or bone-related injuries. In fact, it’s reported that as many as 70% of regular recreational runners have at least one overuse injury per year (1).

Contributing to the problem is poor movement mechanics. Poor movement often stems from our modern, Western-type lifestyles. But it wasn’t always like that. A few months after birth, for instance, we began to explore the world by rolling over and crawling, followed by walking, squatting and eventually running, jumping and climbing.

However, then we went to school and sat for hours at desks listening to our teachers. Consequently, the basic “primal” movement patterns that we learned in infancy were often lost by the time we became teenagers. Alas, this pattern of body misuse invariably continues into later life, whether that involves slumping at home watching TV or sitting in front of a computer screen at work.

To counteract this sedentarism we’re told to build exercise into our daily routines. It’s good advice. Without a doubt, we definitely need to exercise in order to live happier, healthier, longer lives. But inevitably, the combination of poor movement mechanics and vigorous exercise can lead to injury.

So, if you do suffer an injury, what’s happening in your body? Furthermore, what can be done to prevent injuries?

The Science of Recovering From Injury

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Interestingly, most of the body’s repair processes occurs during sleep — therefore, lack of sleep or the experience of poor quality sleep are often related to poor health. Those who regularly sleep less than six hours a night have, on average, a poorer life expectancy than those who are well rested (2).

If you’ve suffered a muscular injury during your workout, whether that may be a slight strain or a more serious injury, you will know from experience that such injuries are typically associated with swelling, bruising and pain. During sleep, your muscles are mostly relaxed (though there are also periods of contraction when we move around). This gives your muscles (and your brain) a period of downtime to repair.

Additionally, during sleep, there are changes in growth hormone release and blood flow in the body. Growth hormone, as the name suggests, stimulates growth as well as repair programs, which play a role in cellular regeneration.

Similarly, there is an increase in blood flow to the area or areas in need of repair. This involves the deployment of inflammatory mediators which (in the right doses) have the effect of increasing the activity of the immune system in the affected or damaged body parts.

So the lesson is: plenty of shut-eye should be a high priority when recovering from any injury.

In order for your body to repair itself efficiently, it also requires high-quality nutrition. For example, micronutrients — B vitamins and trace elements, such as copper, iron and zinc — are essential co-factors for body repair. In addition, you need adequate protein intake.

So another essential lesson if suffering from injury is: ensure your diet is well-balanced so that it contains a good variety of vegetables and some fruits, adequate protein and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.

Preventing Injuries

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Whether you want to avoid injury in the first place or have just recovered and want to prevent other injuries going forward, I am going to suggest a few small changes to your routine which can help greatly in preventing further injuries.

Firstly, it’s all too easy to take time off from exercise after injury and then when you’re feeling slightly better go straight back to try to hit the same goals you were achieving pre-injury. The truth is this is a very sure way to sustain more injuries. But the 10% rule is a good way to prevent this. Used frequently by the world’s top runners, the 10% rule says you should aim to increase your pace or work rate by no more than 10% each time you exercise. Slowly does it, in other words.

A warm-up before you exercise is a great way to increase your body temperature and also improve the circulation of blood to your muscles. By gently warming the muscles, you increase their degree of stretch and flexibility while also improving the body’s usage of nutrients and energy — something which is incredibly useful if you want to make the most of your workout.

Your warm-up should be comprised of a combination of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercises — for example jogging, skipping or rowing. Following on from this, consider some simple static muscle stretches and then continue with some more dynamic stretches, such as lunges, glute bridges or push-ups. In addition, it’s crucial to incorporate some kind of sports-specific warm-up. The aim is to prepare your body for the demands of your sport of choice, so exercises in this part of the warm-up should reflect the type of movements or motor patterns you are about to utilize, be it climbing, weightlifting, running or anything in between.

Finally, consider stretching routines outside of your main training days. For example, perform ROMWOD or join a yoga class to improve your range of motionand limit your risk of developing muscle and joint injuries. Happy exercising!

References

  1. “Evaluation of lower extremity overuse injury potential in runners.” Hreljac, et al. (2000)
  2. “Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies.” Cappuccio, Francesco P., et al. (2010)