No one who participates in sport is immune to injury. What we can control are the actions we take following an injury to lessen its impact. There’s more than just ice and rest to get you up and running again.
We’ve all seen an athlete get injured in action. Your favourite soccer star collapses to the ground, squirming and grimacing in pain while holding her injured body part. But the match eventually goes on, and we seldom give a thought to the athlete’s recovery.
What if you’re that athlete and you sprain your ankle, tear your hamstring, or dislocate your shoulder? A speedy recovery may be your top priority, but do you know what should happen in the weeks after you’re helped off the court?
A sports injury affects several aspects of our well-being: physical, psychological, nutritional, and social. Taking a holistic approach to healing your injury may be the best way to make it a distant, rather than reoccurring, memory.
First: The physical impact
Don’t rely on Dr. Google. One of the best things to do as soon as possible following a sports injury is to get it looked at by a trusted health care professional. A proactive professional is best: someone who will initiate an active rehabilitation program with exercises specific to your injury and its current state.
Figure out your weak links
They can also help you determine precipitating factors by having you perform functional, or typical, movements, such as a squat or a jump. Picking out the weak links in your movement patterns and addressing them through a personalized exercise program can go a long way toward preventing future injury.
No pain, no gain? Not necessarily.
Although this is still a commonly used expression during injury recovery, its application involves terms and conditions. It’s counterproductive to stop moving altogether when you have an injury. But exercising through certain types of pain can be detrimental to your injury. Your physiotherapist or sports medicine doctor can tell you which types of pain are safe to push through and those that signal when it’s time to back off.
Temporary sport swaps
Talk with your physiotherapist about what other kinds of sport or activity you can engage in while you recover that won’t be detrimental to your current injury.
- A runner can replace running with cycling.
- A tennis player with an injured shoulder can still go to the gym for lower body weight training.
- You might even be able to go to your regular training sessions but just walk through drills to stay active.
The nutritional impact
While post-workout recovery fuel is a familiar locker-room topic, nutrition for optimal recovery after an injury is less often considered. The composition of our diet is undeniably critical to our overall health, but it’s even more so while we’re recovering from injury. Although a complete diet overhaul isn’t recommended when you’re recovering, small but productive changes to energy intake and the composition of your diet may be more realistic.
Grow your own—if you can
Often the best way to ensure we’re getting the nutrients we need without harmful additives is by growing our own food. Several nutrients important to the health of our muscles and bones, in addition to benefits associated with physical activity performance, are found in vegetables, seeds, and legumes.
|Nutrient||What to grow||Benefits for injury healing|
|calcium||spinach; cabbage; kale; (also found in cheese; yogurt; fish; nuts; tofu)||bone formation; blood clotting; muscle contraction|
|iron||asparagus; green peas; pumpkin and squash (seeds); (also found in soybeans; lentils; oysters; salmon; eggs)||red blood cell production and transport of oxygen in red blood cells and muscles; electron transport system (releases energy from cells); immune system support|
|magnesium||spinach; lentils and beans; Swiss chard (also found in almonds and other nuts; avocado; brown rice; yogurt)||muscle and nerve health; bone strength; energy production; heart rhythm|
The psychological impact
In many ways, stress resulting from a sport injury comes in the form of disruptions to our daily routines as well as the routines of others in our lives. For example, if we’re caregivers of young children or elderly family members, our ability to physically provide care may be limited by the injury. And a physically demanding job may be impossible unless we’re able to take on modified duties.
Get some help!
If you’re a caregiver and these disruptions increase your stress levels, you can also experience disruptions to your sleep, digestion, and concentration, among other detrimental effects of increased cortisol levels. Think of ways to help ease this stress before it has an impact on your healing.
- Arrange for help with caregiving (relatives, babysitters, respite care).
- Organize other means to commute to work (ride sharing, friends, telecommuting).
Conquer the fear of re-injury
A well-documented concern in athletes after injury is the fear of re-injury. This fear is often significant enough to prevent athletes from returning to competition and increases the likelihood of re-injury. While rehabilitation is helpful for combatting this fear, it can be difficult to stay motivated.
Set some realistic goals
Goal-setting and imagery can be used to lessen the psychological impact that accompanies sports injuries.
- For effective goal-setting, ensure you set short- and long-term goals and use the SMART principle, creating goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
- Imagery involves visualizing yourself successfully performing a sport-specific task with as many senses and as much detail as possible. Practice makes perfect with this skill.
The social impact
It’s not uncommon for athletes to feel as though their coaches are not concerned about their recovery and that friends and family members can’t relate to what they’re experiencing. Combined with time away from teammates and training partners, it’s not surprising that feeling isolated is a well-documented effect of sports injuries.
Maintain your connections
Keeping in touch with your teammates or other sports-related connections can be helpful for keeping a positive but realistic perspective during recovery.
- Attend training sessions, but limit your participation accordingly.
- Meet with teammates outside the sport environment to stay informed of how your team is performing.
- Maintain communication between yourself, your coach, and any others involved in your rehabilitation. Be proactive by keeping them informed on how you’re progressing.
- Fill in extra time outside of rehabilitation with other activities that bring you meaning, such as hobbies or volunteer work.
|Health care professional||Training||How they can help|
|sports medicine physician||MD with postgraduate training in family medicine and a sports medicine fellowship||• diagnosis
• referral for diagnostic imaging and/or surgical consult
|physiotherapist||master’s degree in physiotherapy||• provide active plan for rehabilitation and prevention
• inform how to modify activities and work demands
• offer pain management strategies (e.g., acupuncture)
|registered massage therapist||massage therapy diploma from a recognized college||increase circulation and improve posture to enhance injury recovery|
|naturopath||doctor of naturopathy degree from an accredited naturopathic medical college||target internal and external factors that may be hindering healing|
Take responsibility for your healing—hands-on therapy is beneficial for recovery, but in the long run, it’s your personal contribution that will make the ultimate difference.