Nothing is more frustrating than being a very active person with a brand new injury. Of course, getting injured isn’t really the problem. Most athletes and professionals can grit through the initial pain of injury easily. Laughing off the pain, getting the injury inspected and treated, these things are easy. The hard part is waiting weeks or even months to get back on your game. When you can’t walk on an ankle, twist your back, or use an arm, both practice and play become off-limits. And where does that leave you?
You find yourself at home or sitting on the sidelines trying to wish your injury fully healed. Unfortunately, injuries don’t heal on wishes and bored prodding alone. Tissue needs energy, resources, and time to knit properly and you’re stuck twiddling your thumbs until the injury is well enough to return to normal activities. The good news is that healing time isn’t an absolute timer. There really are ways to increase your healing speed without ‘miracle’ treatments or weird home remedies. All you have to do is understand your body and give it everything you need to mend that injury as quickly as possible. If you want to heal faster, try these ten tips:
Eat More Protein
First things first: most sports injuries aren’t that far off from what you meant to be doing. Training often involves working your muscles to a pulp or even straining them on purpose so that they will knit back together in a stronger mass of muscle tissue. This is how lifting weights and many other strength-building exercises are supposed to work and why taking days off from intensive exercise is a must to get the right results. During this time, you eat a lot of protein, what muscles are made of, so that your body can build more muscle tissue with the protein you consume.
Healing from a sports injury works exactly the same way. The flesh that has been damaged is also made of protein and to heal it, your body will need to build more tissue. Supply your healing cells with everything they need by focusing on lean protein in your diet during recovery. You should also make sure to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables to provide a sufficient amount and variety of nutrients you’ll need for healing as well.
Green Tea Ointment
When you’re tending to your wound, one of the best home treatments to speed healing is green tea extract. While this might sound like just another homeopathic remedy that smells good and does very little, science is actually behind this one. NCBI did a study in 2013 on the effects of green tea when used for minor injuries. It was found that wounds treated with Vaseline and green tea extract healed in 14 days while wounds treated just with Vaseline healed in 20 days. That’s nearly an entire week removed from your recovery time, especially for surface wounds.
There are many ways to acquire and apply green tea extract from buying pre-mixed tubes to making your own ointment at home. Simply apply a small amount of green tea extract while treating the wound each day and watch the gradual healing magic.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Every athlete knows that hydration is key to almost everything about the body from exercise to surviving an illness. However, knowing and doing are two different things. When your routine is thrown off by an injury, it’s all too easy to forget to keep hydrating as much as you usually do. While you may not be running your miles or playing your favorite sport this week, your body is still hard at work mending and building new tissue to replace or repair what was injured. You’re going to need plenty of hydration to keep yourself in good shape during this process.
That said, look to water and fruit juices more than your usual sports drinks, especially if you’re still fighting the battle against swelling. Too much salt in your diet can cause you to retain water and make it more difficult to decrease swelling. Because you aren’t sweating as much, you don’t need the salt and electrolytes the same way, but you do need the hydration. For nutrients, this is the perfect time for a juice or smoothie kick.
Staged Injury Protection and Braces
One of the easiest mistakes to make for recovering athletes is re-injuring yourself. Some push themselves too far trying alternative training techniques to work around the injury, others try to ‘walk it off’ and manage to make the situation worse. You might just forget for a moment that you’re injured and step down on the bad ankle or try to lift with a busted back. Some people even get re-injured by accidents like running into a table. Don’t underestimate the delicacy of your injury or make this mistake.
The best way to protect a currently healing injury is to wrap it in a supportive shell. Sports braces come in all shapes, sizes, and purposes. There are wrist and ankle braces for the most common injuries from neck to ankles. You should try to wear a sturdy brace during the day when you’re moving around, something that can take some weight and protect your injury from impacts. Choose a softer supportive brace at night to hold the injury in a safe position while you sleep.
A Little Cardio Goes a Long Way
Being told to rest can be difficult for an injured athlete, but often the advice is given too firmly or taken too far. You don’t actually need to completely sit out on exercise during recovery. While you do need to rest and give your body the time and energy it needs to heal, it’s actually better if you do a moderate amount of light cardio throughout the week. Simply getting your blood pumping with the intensity-equivalent of a brisk walk can boost your immune system and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Consider exercising in whatever way is possible for you about 45 minutes at least three days a week during your recovery. Many injuries can allow for swimming and, if you are very limited, find a comfortable position and do careful floor exercises with your working limbs.
Sleep Like the Dead
Everyone knows sleep is important for healing. But exactly how important is it? As it turns out, sleep is actually more important than good nutrition when it comes to actually healing faster. Getting a good night’s sleep not only conserves your body’s energy for healing, it also releases oxygen to break up lactic acid in your muscles and produces HGH to help you build new tissue at an unusually high rate.
A recent study from the APS has shown that subjects who get 7-9 hours of sleep heal minor surface wounds significantly faster than subjects who were sleep-deprived but given carefully balanced nutrient and protein supplements. What’s funny is that the researchers were trying to prove that their supplements could replace sleep in the healing process.
If you want to heal quickly, don’t just rest around the house, try to get more sleep than usual. Nap in the afternoon and then make the house cold at night and try to really slumber. The more time you spend asleep, the faster your body will be able to heal by dedicating resources and producing growth hormone.
Maintain Skin Moisture
For surface wounds that involve cuts and scrapes, one of the biggest risks is that your wound will dry out and heal more slowly. Skin needs to be soft to knit back together and dry skin is much more likely to painfully crack around the edges of your injury instead. This is one reason why so many people believe that closed-bandage healing is ideal compared to open-air healing.
Whether or not you are using a sealed bandage, it is essential to keep your skin moist during recovery. Use lotion or ointment on any part of your damaged skin that seems to be drying out. If your region is known for dry air, try a humidifier in your home.
The Right Temperature Treatment
Temperature treatment is a big part of efficient healing, especially for injuries that happen below surface-level. Sprains, strains, deep bruises, and other injuries beneath the skin need to mend but are more difficult to treat because ointments and bandages may not be the answer. Temperature can help manage what’s going on under the surface because you can control the internal healing environment.
Your first concern will probably be swelling control. If your injury is swelling, make sure to treat it with ice or cold packs for 10-30 minutes about every two hours combined with compression and elevation. This will reduce swelling and pain at the same time. Once the swelling stops, treat with heat. This will promote blood flow, faster healing, and help the internal tissue to relax during the healing process.
Speaking of relaxing muscles, do everything you can to stay loose and properly stretched while you heal. The last thing you want is for the new tissue that has grown in to be too short or connected to tight, uncomfortable muscles. If you let yourself become inactive or tense up too much while the tissues knit back together, you may have a much longer ending recovery process while you stretch out and re-condition the new tissue. However, if you heal loose and limber, your new tissue is more likely to be ready for use the day you’re scheduled to start training again.
Leave it Alone
As our final word of advice, don’t mess with your injury too much as it heals. As all our mothers would say “Don’t pick at it.” Sometimes your urge to ‘tend’ a wound can be useful but constant attention won’t do you as much good as you might think. Don’t prod at a bruise or sprain that hurts, don’t pick at your scabs, and don’t put yourself at risk of re-injury. Instead, wrap it up and try to distract yourself for the next few days while the most important part of the healing occurs. You can apply gentle massage once or twice a day and re-dress the wound at least once a day. Near the end of the healing process, it may even be beneficial to ‘manicure’ a scab so that it only covers the still-raw skin. However, picking at an injury too much will just slow down your healing.
No one likes to sit at home or on the sidelines recovering from a sports injury but with intelligent application of these ten tips, you should be back on the field or running your favorite route days or even an entire week before scheduled by your doctor.