We all get injured from time to time. Lift a little more than your body can handle while going for a PR (personal record), push yourself just a little too far in a workout or game, develop some weird shoulder or elbow thing from repetitive use, it happens. It’s one of the small risks we take by being active, but those injuries don’t need to keep us sidelined for long if you know what to do and get on it immediately.
Being a holistic nutritionist, personal trainer, energy worker and dabbler in homeopathy has equipped me with some great tools to quickly treat any threatening sports injuries that might keep me out of the gym or unable to do my job, and although I’ve had injuries, I also have strategies that help my body heal relatively quickly and I’ve never had to modify my training or take time off for any extensive amounts of time that would allow my level of fitness to decline. That’s what it’s all about really, if you don’t use it, you lose it. The rate at which you will lose strength and other parameters of fitness will depend on factors like your fitness level and the type of training you do, but let’s face it, if you can’t train, your body will start to decondition to some degree and that sucks.
So, I thought I would share my own strategies for quickly treating and preventing long-term injuries and hopefully you’ll find them helpful. Here’s my disclaimer though, I’m not a doctor, I don’t know your specific situation or medical history and I make these recommendations assuming that you’re relatively healthy, not on any prescription drugs and do not have any major medical conditions. If that is not the case, then obviously don’t listen to me.
1) Homeopathic Arnica. If you don’t know what homeopathy is, that’s fine, all you really need to know is that it is a completely natural form of medicine with no side effects that’s been in use for centuries. The Queen uses it and that’s good enough for me, not to mention it works.
So, I always have one particular homeopathic medicine on hand in case of injuries; Arnica Montana. In fact, I keep a tiny tube of it at the gym just to be sure it’s always available to me, or anyone else that’s smart enough to use it. If I push too hard, lift too much, feel a tweak or a twinge I go straight for the Arnica. Three or four little pellets under the tongue are usually all it takes and voila, pain is gone, never to return. Sometimes it takes a little more than that and if that’s the case you can take Arnica every 15 minutes until you start to see improvement. If there still isn’t any improvement after three doses spread 15 minutes apart then you really did a number on yourself and it’s time to move on to some other methods. On the other hand if you feel improvement don’t take any more Arnica until the improvement stops and you’re still not completely recovered, or it begins to get worse again. You can find Arnica at most high-quality health food stores for about eight bucks a tube. Get the 30ch or 30c potency.
2) Foam Rolling. Injuries often cause tightening of the tissues surrounding the injured area which contributes to the pain. Foam rollers allow you do a type of self-massage that helps release the tension in the fascia (soft tissue that surrounds the muscles) and increases blood flow. People are often amazed at how quickly pain can disappear just by rolling around on a piece of foam. Watch the “Helpful Videos” on the CrossFit Kingston blog for more details.
3) Rest. Yes, rest. If I’ve really tweaked something and Arnica and foam rolling haven’t completely alleviated the problem as they usually do, I’m not going to the gym the next day. It’s pretty rare that this would happen, but as much as I hate to take a day off, sometimes it’s the smartest thing you can do. By the same token, if I’m doing a movement and I feel something that’s not right, I don’t push through for the sake of finishing my workout, or winning a game. It’s just stupid. You could end up having to take months off, or dealing with a chronic injury just because your stupid pride took precedence over your body’s cries to stop. Take a little voluntary rest when your body asks for it, or take a LOT of forced rest later. It’s your choice. That being said, you need to know the difference between a threatening injury and the pain of maximal performance and that IS a grey area. But if you feel sharp, shooting pain that’s a good indication to stop, or at least slow down. BUT, if you’ve injured your shoulder, it doesn’t mean you can’t squat, and sometimes moving an injured part in a range of motion that doesn’t cause pain can speed up the healing process because it’s getting blood flowing in there, but I would still take the next day or possibly two, completely off from exercise if I can sense that it is a potentially serious injury. Sympathetic nervous system dominance is a rather common condition in our society and with athletes so sometimes all you need is to chill out, de-stress for a few days, do some deep breathing, some meditation, or take a nice slow walk. It’s also worth noting if you tend to get injured more often when you’re not getting at least eight hours of sleep per night, or when life gets more stressful than normal. Exercise can be a double-edge sword, yes it releases stress, but there’s a fine line, sometimes it can contribute to stress as well. Pay attention to your body, it will tell when it’s time to take a nap.
4) Protein. Your body needs stuff. It can’t build healthy tissue out of thin air, so if you’re injured it needs MORE stuff to repair that tissue. Protein is one of the most important nutrients it needs to do that. Personally I use whey protein, glutamine and creatine in my post-workout shake along with some antioxidants in the form of a greens food or berry powder. That goes a long way to giving your body the nutrients it needs to repair tissue, reduce inflammation and combat the free radicals we create from training and I credit that for keeping me relatively injury-free most of the time. Protein alone is a good start though, so make sure you increase your protein intake by 15-20 grams for at least a few days, or until the injury is completely healed.
5) Fish oil. This is another supplement that I take on a daily basis, but in case of an injury I double my usual dose. Fish oil contains essential fatty acids that are vital to creating healthy cell membranes and reducing inflammation. In cases of injuries or even arthritis, I’ve seen fish oil work faster and better than both over the counter and prescription anti-inflammatory drugs without any nasty effects on your liver. Try to get a high-quality liquid fish oil, the brand DOES make a huge difference. If your fish oil tastes or smells fishy, it’s rancid, don’t take it. Take up to three tablespoons of fish oil per day for two days following a soft-tissue injury, unless you’re on blood thinners or other prescription drugs, in which case, check with your doctor.
6) Traumeel ointment. This is a miraculous homeopathic ointment that you can rub in and around any injured part to increase the healing. I can’t tell you how powerful this stuff is, but maybe this story can demonstrate it. My stupid ex-boyfriend went skiing with his buddies, drank a lot of beer and decided he was a ski-jumper. Long, roll-your-eyes-and-say- “idiot”- story short, he took a HARD whack on his low back, right in the kidney area when the backs of his skis came up and smacked him as he failed to make the jump. His buddies had to help him on and off the bus, he had blood in his urine and I had to help him into the tub as he fought back tears, even with a blood alcohol level of 10billion parts per million. I gave him a few doses of Arnica, rubbed Traumeel cream on the huge red welts on his back and the next day he got up and went to work. No more blood in the urine, no bruise, no soreness. Like it never happened, except the red eyes and dry mouth of course. That’s the power of homeopathy folks. Get some friggin’ Traumeel.
7) EFT. This one isn’t easy to explain, and it really should be up there with the Arnica because I often start it immediately when I feel an injury. It is a method of working with the energy of the acupuncture system that Eastern Medicine has been using for about 3000 years. EFT stands for the Emotional Freedom Technique and you can learn the basics of it on-line in an afternoon or from me in about 10 minutes. With EFT we tap on certain acupuncture points on the body to re-balance the body’s energy systems. Tight muscles and pain are often relieved very quickly with a few rounds of EFT. I’ve used it successfully 20-30 times to diminish the pain around an injury, often with permanent results. I do EFT on my way to the gym almost every morning. Lately I’ve been using it get my posterior chain muscles to fire and I had a sore ass last week for the first time I can remember since I started CrossFit. That’s a good thing.
8) Vitamin C. Here’s another nutrient I load up when an injury shows up. I take 3000-10,000mg of vitamin C complex every day until it’s all better. Taking a vitamin C complex, rather than straight old ascorbic acid makes a huge difference in retention and delivery. If you take 10,000mg of ascorbic acid you’ll likely be married to the toilet for the next five to eight hours; heed my warning. Ascorbic acid is only part of vitamin C as it’s found in nature. In your food you’ll find ascorbic acid along with minerals and other nutrients, making it much more complete and effective. I only know of one company that makes a really complete vitamin C complex and that is Progressive. You can only find it at the health food store.
9) Glucosamine. Glucose+ glutamine=glucosamine and it’s part of the building blocks of joint tissue, especially cartilage. Not only does it provide your body with the raw materials it needs to build and repair joint tissue, it’s also a pretty effective anti-inflammatory. I rarely take glucosamine, although I always have it on hand and I don’t hesitate to take it when I need more anti-inflammatory power. Some experts recommend that all athletes take glucosamine on a daily basis to ward off premature joint degeneration due to wear and tear, but I don’t like to take handfuls of pills. If you have arthritis or the makings of arthritis then adding glucosamine to your daily regimen is a smart idea. To get any effects from glucosamine you need at least 1500mg per day in divided doses. Take 500mg three times per day.
10) Castor oil hot packs. This is an old remedy that no one really knows the mechanism of action for, but I find them extremely soothing and I’ve talked to therapists that have used castor oil hot packs to dissolve scar tissue and heal even chronic injuries within a couple of weeks. If your injury is at a point that it’s alright to add heat (look that one up yourself) you can make a castor oil hot pack and put it on the injured part for about 30-60 minutes. Take a piece of flannel big enough to fold three or four times yet still big enough to cover your injured part completely. Put 1-2 tbsps of high quality castor oil (get it at the health food store, not the drug store to avoid oils with hexane) on the flannel and place it on the injury. Now cover the flannel with a large piece of plastic, I use a cut open Ziploc bag, and cover the whole thing with a heating pad or hot water bottle. Ahhhh, relax. You can do that daily or every other day until the injury is healed and you can just keep re-using the same piece of flannel. Don’t wash it, just add a little more oil each time and keep it in a clean Ziploc bag.
11) Glutamine. I mentioned glutamine above because I take it every day in my post-workout shake. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in your body and it is vital for repair and recovery. If you’re not already taking it, add 5-10 grams per day in divided doses until you’re healed and then consider keeping it in your regimen to prevent future injuries and speed recovery. If you are already taking it, just add an extra 5 grams per day.
12) Magnesium. If your injury involves muscle spasms or cramps, magnesium is an excellent muscle relaxant. Take 500mg per day, preferably with food. If you take more than 700mg you can likely expect a few extra trips to the john due to magnesium’s natural laxative effect, which might not be a bad thing if you’re all stressed out about your injury!
So, those are my tips for getting better and getting back to training as quickly as possible. I’d also like to add that of course you can use these strategies for more than sports injuries. For example when another stupid boyfriend (yeah, I can pick ’em) threw me on the couch in a wrestling match and caused a back injury that brought tears to my eyes; I used all the same stuff. I also went hastily to my friendly neighborhood chiropractor. Don’t mess around when it comes to your spine, your nervous system runs through there! Get to a chiropractor, osteopath, or other body worker as quickly as possible to get that back into alignment before the muscles tighten up around it and take your Arnica on the way!
If you have any questions please feel free to comment or join my facebook group where I answer nutrition and wellness questions free of charge!