Recovering from a Sports Injury
Jessica Hegg provides some key points to consider when you are recovering from a Sports Injury
Whether it is a minor strain in the ankle or a more serious ligament tear, any type of injury requires vigilant attention to recovery. Not only does a period of recuperation involve treatment and potentially physical therapy, but your activity levels, diet, and at-home care all play major roles as well in helping you heal to prevent further injury.
A systematic review of 26 different studies specifically focused on lower extremity injuries found that no matter whether it was an ankle sprain, torn ACL, strained hamstring, or Achilles tendinitis, evidence pointed to a clear correlation between injury and heightened risk of re-injury. Plainly put, injury makes you more vulnerable to re-injure yourself if and when you return to sports. So what steps can be taken towards speedy and functional but ultimately safe recovery which lowers your risk for re-injury?
Individualized Treatment Plan
Depending on the severity of your injury, you may simply see a general practitioner, or they may refer you to a physical therapist or sports medicine specialist. In the case of injuries where surgical intervention is required, a surgeon and team of specialists will handle your treatment and recovery.
No treatment plan is alike. What works for a friend of yours might not be the exact recipe for success for you. In fact, when it comes to sports-related concussions, for example, a 2017 comprehensive literature review of over 80 studies revealed that "it is not possible to define a single 'physiological time window' for [sports-related concussion] recovery. Multiple studies suggest physiological dysfunction may outlast current clinical measures of recovery, supporting a buffer zone of gradually increasing activity before full contact risk."
Your recovery is just that, yours. Adhering to guided instruction from a physical therapist and at-home treatment recommendations from your doctor might include heat and ice therapy, wrapping or taping the affected area, massage, acupuncture, or targeted stretching to name a few. Reducing inflammation and pain, stabilizing the injured area (and maybe even immobilizing it), and aiding the body in repair are priorities which do not neatly pack into a delineated window of time. Customizing a treatment plan for you is the work of you and your treating doctors and therapists.
Ask About Mobility Aids
Rocking a foot cast or boot from your ankle break? A mobility aid like crutches or a walker which provides non-weight bearing relief for lower leg injuries also gives athletes the ability to stay active and get around. Not only does alleviating the injured leg of any weight prevent painful movement and inflammation, but it avoids adding undue stress to the bones and tissue repairing themselves.
Many think the only type of mobility aid out there for lower leg injuries may be axillary (underarm) crutches or in extreme cases, wheelchairs. Talk to your doctor about other options including forearm crutches which let you bend your elbow to use them, allowing you to bear greater weight, platform or leg support crutches, or scooters.
What is the best scooter for a broken leg? When you hear the words mobility scooter you may envision the little motorized buggies you see senior citizens using in the grocery store. When it comes to mobility aids for lower leg injuries, however, knee scooters are the name of the game. A knee scooter works for anyone with an injury below the knee. Typically, a 3 or 4 wheeled design, knee scooters allow you to bend your injured leg at a 90-degree angle and rest it on a raised platform while holding onto sturdy bicycle-type handles to steer and pushing yourself with your good leg. Engineered for comfort and manoeuvrability, knee scooters offer a potentially freeing alternative to traditional crutches.
Eat for Recovery
The resulting switch to a sedentary lifestyle after a sports injury can quickly take its toll on your diet. Not only is eating poorly so much easier when you do not have to worry about workouts and training, but lower leg injuries especially which temporarily impair mobility, make it hard to prepare, transport, and eat your own food. Ordering out or buying packaged and processed meals can save time and frustration when you are hobbling around on crutches, but they can also quickly pack on the pounds.
Your body craves healthy foods as it recovers and needs vital nutrients to help repair damaged tissue and muscle. Foods rich with medium-chain fatty acids (as opposed to long-chain fatty acids) convert to quick fuel for cells in the body without being stored as fat - coconut oil is the best example there. Protein is an obvious must for a recovery diet, seek out grass-fed beef, lean chicken, wild salmon, even greek yoghurt. Load up on Vitamin C with citrus fruits, broccoli, red peppers, and kale - Vitamin C aids the body in forming proteins to rebuild skin, scar tissue, ligaments, blood vessels, and tendons. Incorporate zinc, Omega-3, and Vitamin A-rich foods to fight inflammation, promote wound healing, and boost your immune system to ward off infections and viruses.
Prep for Your Return
Your return to glory means little if re-injury lurks right around the corner. In addition to healing and repairing the body, recovery time should include planning on how to avoid future injury. While physical therapy may help re-strengthen injured or weakened muscles and tendons, your own body mechanics and even sports accessories can negate all your hard work.
Did you know a pair of worn out running shoes can cause you to over-pronate and strain everything from your Achilles tendon to the plantar fascia tissue running the bottom of your foot? Invest in proper footwear before hitting the field or the track again - footwear which promotes proper body mechanics, supports your arch and adds flexibility to your movements. A doctor may be able to help you figure out if orthotic inserts or bracing your previously injured body part, i.e. with a knee or ankle brace, may also help stabilize muscles, tendons, and ligaments to prevent injury.
A 2017 report found that after reconstruction of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (torn ACL), 81% of individuals return to sports, 65% return to their pre-injury level and only 55% return to competitive sports. Within 10 to 20 years, researchers believe anywhere from 20 to 50% of those injured will develop osteoarthritis (swelling of the joints at the end of bones). Those statistics are daunting but illuminating. Remember, acute attention to recovery from a sports injury could mean the difference between returning to the activities and sports you once loved, or never being able to fully participate again. From working fully with your doctor to finding the right mobility aid and even eating the right types of foods, there are a variety of ways to set yourself up for post-injury success.
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About the Author
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: