Welcome to the four-part Sock Doc series: “First Aid for Injuries” designed to help you understand sports injury causes, how to prevent them, how to treat them naturally, and how to become a better athlete. I hope you’ll gain a lot of knowledge from these four articles that will further emphasize the Sock Doc philosophy of natural injury treatment and prevention. There’s a reason why you’re injured and it’s not because you forgot to ice, stretch, or take your NSAIDs with your Wheaties. You’ll learn: why and when to ice; if you should use heat; why you should think twice about your anti-inflammatory medications; other therapies you can use for an acute or chronic injury; and a whole lot more. I hope you enjoy this unconventional and highly effective information as it will help make you a healthier, stronger, faster, efficient, and injury-free athlete.
When you’re injured, (recent – acute injury), there’s a natural inflammatory response that occurs in your tissues as blood and other fluids enter the area that needs attention. Pain soon follows, letting your brain know that something is not right. This pain is a protective mechanism so you hopefully don’t cause any more unnecessary damage. The inflammatory response initiates repair of the injured area – whether it’s a bone, ligament, tendon, or any other body tissue. This is NORMAL and NECESSARY – so the question is not only if you should use ice, heat, or other type of therapy, but how much should you be intervening with the normal workings of the body, especially to the extent of taking drugs such as anti-inflammatory medications.
Once you’re injured the questions arise like wildfire. Do you ice that injury or heat it? Or if you use both ice and heat – which one comes first? And how long and how often do you apply the therapy? Maybe you shouldn’t be using ice or heat at any time. Do you wrap the injury and elevate it? Do you stay off the injured area or get in some active recovery? How about anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)? Should you take them when you’re injured? Should you take a NSAID to speed up your recovery?
I’ll break this down and discuss how to properly use some different types of readily available therapies to treat an injury, both chronic and acute. But first, to understand what type of treatment you might want to employ, it’s important to understand what is going on inside your body when you’re injured, and of course – how did you get injured?
“That Injury Came Out of Nowhere”
Injuries don’t just come out of nowhere with the obvious exceptions of trauma and accidents. You may have been in a motor vehicle accident, crashed your bike, got clipped during a soccer game, or slipped on a mossy rock while trail running. These types of injures can of course happen to anyone at anytime involved in certain sports or activities, though the extent of injury and the way in which it heals is highly dependent on the health of the person, which I will elaborate on in a moment.
For the most part, there is a reason why you’re injured – it wasn’t just bad luck. This is one of several key teachings of the SockDoc site. You don’t just all of a sudden wake up with neck pain for an unknown reason or because you slept wrong. You don’t just happen to have knee pain when you’re out running one day because of the road or trail you ran on. And you definitely didn’t injure that muscle or joint because you were not adequately stretching the area or applying ice properly after your workout.
What did happen however is that your body had created various muscle imbalances in response to some, or several, stressors to your musculoskeletal and nervous systems. These stressors affect your entire body, but localize in a certain area, (now known as your “injury”). An athlete’s body can only handle so much stress; it will ultimately break down. Theses stressors are due to training too hard or too often, inadequate rest or recovery, improper diet, improper footwear, past injuries still creating compensatory patterns in your body, or too much emotional stress in your life. Eventually the muscle imbalances reveal themselves as pain, inflammation, and an injury.
Additionally, most of these same stressors result in both antioxidant depletion and corticosteroid depletion – both major predisposing factors when it comes to an injury. (Corticosteroids are adrenal hormones – the same ones you need to balance blood sugar and electrolytes in your body.) So the more stress you are under and the more free radical damage present, not only are you more likely to become injured, but the worse the injury will be, and the slower it will heal. This is discussed over and over on the SockDoc site because it is the main reason WHY athletes get injured. It’s a huge concept to understand and one that conventional medicine for the most part still doesn’t quite grasp.
So, now that there’s an injury – what’s your body’s response?
Inside the Injured Body – The Inflammatory Response: Antioxidants, Fats, Stress Hormones
Most people understand the process of inflammation at least at a basic level, that’s why they think about ice and anti-inflammatory medications. Your body is trying to repair the tissues that are injured so you can recover as quickly as possible. Inflammation is too often thought of as this terrible thing though it is very important and very necessary for health and healing. It’s when inflammation gets out of control and your body doesn’t know when to shut it off that problems arise. Also a body that doesn’t produce adequate inflammation may never fully heal.
The inflammatory response initiates repair but its success is very closely related to how healthy you, the athlete, are. Though there are several factors involved in the inflammatory process, the two most important nutritional factors to consider in regards to inflammation are fatty acids and antioxidants. There are those antioxidants again.
A healthy fatty acid profile is a sure way to help your body recover from any injury in the most efficient and timely manner. This will be discussed more in Parts III and IV of the Sock Doc First Aid. Antioxidant depletion, which was one of the predisposing injury factors just discussed, is the other major aggravating factor when it comes to the inflammatory response. The more free radical damage you’re suffering the worse the inflammation and injury will be. Typically, the same factors that set someone up for the injury, (those stressors mentioned above), are the same ones that will rob your body of antioxidants, making you both more susceptible to an injury and dictating the severity of the injury. Sure eating antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, and herbs will help with free radical damage but it’s also important, (perhaps more so), to recognize those factors which rob your body of antioxidants – poor sleep, excess stress, environmental stress (air, water, sun, temperature extremes), poor diet, etc.
“Damn, I’m Injured”
Well that sucks. So now what do you do? (This is the #1 SockDoc question regarding a variety of injuries.) The first thing to do is realize WHY you got injured. No need to go through that again, right? Nope. If you understand the why then you can not only handle the injury correctly but keep it, and other injures, from occurring again. So if you really think you got injured because you didn’t stretch or you ran without your orthotics or your lucky rabbit’s foot fell out of your nutrition bag, then this is where you stop and read from the beginning as well as some other stuff on the SockDoc site to get a better understanding of my “madness” before you move on.
There are two common “go to” therapies that the injured athlete uses – ice and anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). I rarely use ice (or heat) and I never use NSAIDs when treating an injury of any type. There are reasons why I don’t use these therapies often or at all, which will be explained. First – should you use ice, heat, or RICE, and if so then when and how often? Second – should you use NSAIDs? Or perhaps more accurately, why would you not want to use NSAIDs?
I’m going to discuss the ice/heat quandary in Part II and NSAIDs in Part III and IV. Stay tuned but until then think about any excess stress in your life and whether you’re at risk of antioxidant depletion, corticosteroid depletion, or fatty acid/inflammatory problems. If you are at risk then begin by addressing those stress issues so you reduce your chances of becoming injured as well as heal and recover faster from an existing injury.