Tuesday, April 23, 2013

10 Ways To Respond To Workout And Sports Injuries

I can relate to this one because I got injured last weekend, my lower back around the lumbar spine, which can be scary. I seemed to have failed #1 and #9 below, but now I'm on a fast track to recovery. At 56, I've had many common sports injuries over the decades, so I'm familiar with the typical response and recovery patterns.

#1: Own up to the injury. Declare yourself injured as soon as possible; this will speed your recovery. This won't be a difficult step if you tear an ACL or Achilles tendon, for example (you won't be able to walk!), but many injuries are more subtle: mild or moderate concussions, various soft tissue tears or sprains. You're tempted to just "soldier on," your identity and self esteem are heavily wrapped up with your daily routine and you hate backing off it (maybe that's another issue to work on). Believe me, this is a mistake. You can make the injury worse and prolong your recovery. Many injury-response steps have to do with attitude. You're going to have to change what you do for several days, and the sooner you start the better.

#2: The good old R.I.C.E. acronym will do you no wrong for the vast majority of physical mishaps like soft tissue injuries (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Ice is best for the first day because it minimizes swelling and bleeding. Get the ice pack on right away. Then move to a combination of ice followed by heat.

#3: Eat and sleep really well. Your body is broken but has an amazing capacity for regeneration. You have to repair tears in tissue and sometimes bone fractures and the like; that means you have to provide the raw materials, which are quality proteins. Whatever your favorite good protein source is, chow down: fish, red meat, fowl, eggs, avocados, etc. Ease back on sugar and other inflammatory foods like refined flour; you want to *reduce* inflammation. Get plenty of sleep, because sleep is repair and rejuvenation time for the body. The difference in injury-recovery time when you're sleeping well compared with burning the candle at both ends is *amazing*.

#4: Listen to your body and ease back on the painkillers and pills. This may seem kind of Spartan but…Ibuprofen helps by masking the pain and inflammation, but doesn't initiate any healing in its own right. Listen to your own body; it embodies thousands of years of accumulated evolutionary wisdom. I'm not talking about real pain-management issues. This advice refers to the typical sports and overuse injuries that involve more stiffness and restriction of movement. I find that injured people tend to live on NSAIDs when they didn't really have to ("I took 12 Motrin yesterday!"). I took a grand total of one 200 mg Motrin for my back injury. I wanted to know what I had done to myself, and to monitor the sensations to find out if I was improving.

#5: See a specialist if there's no incremental or noticeable improvement. My rule of thumb is that if even a moderately bad injury (not disabling) is improving with treatment day by day, you don't have to see a specialist. Every concussion, however, necessitates a trip to the doctor and the complete cessation of the activity for a long time. By that I mean dizziness afterwards, headaches, nausea, certainly any evidence you were knocked out or saw stars. In other cases, for example, my back injury is getting better every day, very quickly, so I don't have to go see "the back guy." In fact, pursue a less is more strategy in general for handling your physical issues.

#6: Tell others that you are out of action, including work. This goes back to #1; you're injured, you have restricted movement, you are trying to get better, and you have to dial back what you do for several days. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help if you're lugging babies around or the like. Believe me, I've been there.

#7: Be patient. Older people will almost always take longer to recover from injuries than younger people. The famous Celtics coach Red Auerbach used to say something on the order of "a 20 year old player who pulls a hammy is out for a week; a 40 year old is out for a month." Just assume that you're out of action for a while–the joy when you comeback faster will be all the more uplifitng.

#8: Be aware that stress and fatigue precludes injuries. Mental stress and anxiety leads to eroded reaction time, loss of coordination, poor concentration, all the things that lead up to muscular, tendon, and joint injuries. When you're stressed, do easy relaxation type exercises and leave the high-intensity stuff for another time.

#9: Learn to avoid injury in the first place by knowing your limits and not having to prove yourself over and over again. The definiton of injury is literally placing a too-heavy load or force on a set of muscles and joints for too long a time.  If you're going to challenge yourself physically, then train adequately for the activity and work up to it incrementally. Most of us aren't athletic savants; if you've only done crossfit twice, don't enter the crossfit tournament. The apparent source of my injury was, in retrospect, a little pathetic. I spent the good chunk of a morning in one of those automatic batting cages proving to myself that I could still get around on a fastball. I even had a little cheering section of kids ("Gee Mister, did you used to play baseball?") The next morning I looked and moved like Jed Clampett.

#10: After you're 100 percent again, use resistance training and other techniques (e.g., common sense stretches and yoga) to strengthen the area that was injured. The injury was your body's way of exposing your weakness, and how joyful it is to find new routines and not get injured again!

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