The answer depends on when the injury occurred and what body part is affected: soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament) vs. joint. Acute injuries of either should initially be treated with ice for approximately 20 minutes at a time, but only for the first 24 hours. Beyond 24 hours ice can continue to be used when necessary to treat flare ups of inflammation at a joint; however, heat should be applied to muscle injuries to promote relaxation. Additionally, heat will aid in restoring flexibility and range of motion after an acute soft tissue injury such as a strain or sprain. Chronic conditions such as arthritis or degenerative diseases that affect the joints tend to benefit more from ice than heat since ice reduces the inflammation due to fluid build-up in the joints.
The next most common question I get: how long should I rest my injury and can I return to the same level of activity as before? This question is very important for athletes who are itching to return from an injury, usually too soon. Again this topic has a number of variables: how severe is the injury, have you sustained this injury before, and how active were you before you were injured. All of these play an extremely important role in recovery since our bodies (depending on age, activity level, and even sometimes gender) can affect how well and how quickly we can recover.
Women tend to sustain more valgus knee injuries compared to men because we have wider hips and therefore an altered Q angle, putting more stress on the anterior and medial aspects of our knees. Thus, it often takes women longer to recover from knee injuries than men. The elderly are another population that tends to have longer recovery times from acute injuries due to decreased bone density and loss of muscle tone. Finally, those who have re-injured a muscle, tendon, or ligament will also undergo a longer recovery time from their injury.
For a very long time, physicians believed that immobilizing an injury was the best way for the injury to heal. Today the opposite holds true, with the exception of a severe fractures that requires surgical intervention. Active recovery has taken the place of immobilization as the go-to protocol for injury rehabilitation. While more severe injuries such as fractures and ligament tears require the patient to ease into restoring normal range of motion, the suggested protocol for acute injuries is:
1) Ice for the first 24 hour
2) Take oral anti-inflammatory medication every 4-6 hours as needed
3) Heat and stretch at least twice a day
4) Range of motion exercises every 2-4 hours
5) Strength training 2-3 times a week (usually for approximately 6 weeks, depending on severity of the injury)
The better shape you are in before you are injured, the more likely it is that you will recover quicker and more completely than your out-of-shape counterparts. The important thing to remember is to listen to your body and know your limits, and not push yourself too far too quickly.
The next topic I want to tackle is probably the most controversial, and also my favorite thing to talk about…FOOD!! Food is your body’s life source, along with some oxygen and water, and without it you would not survive. Men are always trying to bulk up and women are always trying to slim down, and the answer to both of these approaches isFOOD! The most common misconception in the food world surrounds the topic of my favorite thing ever, CARBS! Contrary to popular belief (and numerous terrible fad diets) carbs are NOT the enemy. Carbs in fact are your body’s number one source of energy and should not only be eaten every day, but should be eaten MULTIPLE times a day.
The biggest problem with how people diet is not only what they eat but HOW they are eating. Especially for you gym rats, whether you are trying to bulk up or slim down, you definitely need to be eating your carbs before AND after your workouts. Yup that’s right, you heard me… before AND after. This does NOT mean eat a dozen glazed donuts, go do some yoga, and then have an ice cream sundae! What it does mean is plan ahead and eat smart carbs. Have a snack that includes whole grain carbohydrates with fiber before your workout to give you sustained energy and then have a snack with protein and carbs following your workout to restore lost muscle and liver glycogen and help build and maintain muscle mass. Men have more or less figured this one out, but ladies still think they need to go on some crazy carb-free juice diet to lose weight….please for the love of god, STOP THE MADNESS!!! The easiest way to lose weight, even if you’re not hitting the gym, is with your diet (which yes, includes eating carbs!!!).
Meal planning 101:
1) Eat breakfast – As someone who wakes up starving every day, it amazes me that some people can even get out the door in the morning without eating breakfast. Every meal of the day should be comprised of a protein, carbohydrate, and fruit and/or veggie. The easiest way to figure out how much of each to consume is to use the Plate Method: One half of your plate should be a vegetable, one quarter of the plate should be protein, and the remaining quarter should be a whole grain carbohydrate. Ideally you should eat breakfast within a half hour of waking up to get your metabolism going for the day!
2) Eat small snacks in-between meals. About 3 hours after breakfast, have a mid-morning snack of a piece of fruit, a granola bar, or some trail mix. Eating smaller snacks between meals will help keep your metabolism going, and prevent you from binging at your next meal. Have another snack about 3 hours after lunch or about half an hour before you hit the gym after work.
3) When you feel yourself getting REALLY hungry, drink 8 oz. of water. Water is another important life source that your body needs plenty of to survive. Ideally, you should try to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day.
4) NO LATE NIGHT SNACKING!! If you followed your meal plan, then you did plenty of snacking during the day and shouldn’t feel the need to go creeping into the kitchen at midnight. Late night snacking usually happens not because you are hungry, but because you are satisfying a craving that you denied yourself all day. The solution to that problem is..
5) DON’T deny yourself the things you like. If you’re a chocolate lover then you can still eat a brownie… but eat just one…and don’t eat it everyday. Everything in moderation… I know it’s cliché, but it works! The more you try to deny yourself the food that is taunting you, the more likely you are to give into it and overdo it. So seriously, just eat the damn brownie…just not ALL the time!
So there you have it, some myths busted and misconceptions explained. All you have to do to survive is listen to your body, it will always tell you what it needs and how far you can push it!