Part of handling an injury is not only dealing with the pain and loss of function but also managing to adapt your lifestyle during your recovery. In some cases, an injury can lead to a disability or even permanent changes, which can be extremely difficult for some people to grapple with over time. The good news is that even with the most drastic of injuries, it’s possible to take an active role in your recovery. The ideal way to do this is by working with your doctors and medical professionals to create a proper workout and diet plan that matches your needs.
For one thing, it’s important to make sure that your attempts to get back to a normal lifestyle don’t keep you from taking proper care of your injury, especially shortly after it happens. A lot of the science being done on recovery is a direct result of sports injuries, as pushing the body to the limit is more likely to cause certain injuries. In addition, there’s a lot of money in the industry to push sports science. If you have a sports-related injury, the actual healing will start as soon as 72 hours after the injury itself. At this point, you can begin to alternate heat packs with ice. Heat helps promote the flow of blood to the injured area, which helps supply nutrients and oxygen to fuel the healing process.
When the initial swelling stops, you can begin doing some basic exercise. Why is this so important? In relation to the injury itself, immobilizing injuries can lead to stiffness and loss of strength over long periods of time. In general, exercise has so many benefits for you that you don’t want to go without it for too long. Of course, there’s a bit of a balancing act between not getting any exercise and pushing yourself too far, potentially leading to re-injury.
When you’re putting together an exercise regimen for yourself, with a doctor’s OK, of course, it may be a good idea to try and branch out when it comes to the different types of exercise that you do. Called cross-training, this allows you to be active and stay fit while giving the injured part of your body time to recover. Swimming is one of the most common activities for people in recovery, but depending on what part of your body is injured, there are a lot of things you can do. For example, there’s nothing stopping a runner with an injured arm from running, so long as they get approval from a medical professional.
We mentioned before the importance of blood flow to injured areas due to the ability to transfer nutrients. The second piece of that puzzle is making sure that you eat the right foods that will get you those essential nutrients in the first place. Sports dietitian Cynthia Sass, R.D., compares the situation to repairing a house. “A crack in the foundation requires raw materials to patch things back together, and in the body those raw materials come from what we eat.”
The nutrients in question run the gamut from proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While you want to try and eat a balanced meal anyway, there are a few items that stand out. In terms of bang-for-your-buck, leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach are some of the most nutrient-packed foods on earth, with essential components like iron and vitamin A. For your proteins, you have a few options. Lean meats like turkey are a great option, but you can also look into plant-based proteins like beans or tofu.
For one final point, it’s important to mention the importance of emotional and mental health when dealing with injury recovery. Many people who are active or value their independence can struggle with their loss of function, even if it is temporary. In general, some good things to focus on in times like these are the things that you can control. While your body will heal at its own pace, you can control when you go to see a physical therapist, or whether or not you get a good night’s sleep every day. In addition, it may be a good idea to feed other hobbies or look into new things to do with whatever downtime you have.
Ultimately, the best philosophy that you should have regarding your diet and exercise after an injury is trying to slowly work your way back up to the norm as you regain certain functions. It can be difficult to do this at first, especially if you’re a naturally active person, but by keeping the right professionals around you, you’ll be sure to hit those goals in time.