Physical therapy can be an important part of healing and recovery, but here are some tips you can do on your own to help you become healthier, stronger and more active.
1. Eat healthy, particularly fresh foods that are helpful to reduce inflammation
Eating a healthy diet is very important in general but particularly when trying to recover from an injury or surgery. There are also foods that we now know help with inflammation. It might help to include these foods in your eating habits to help reduce your chance for too much inflammation. And a diet that consists of anti-inflammatory foods is widely accepted as a healthy diet.
So what are anti-inflammatory foods?
They include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins (like beans and nuts), fatty fish, and fresh herbs and spices.
Fruits and veggies: Research shows that vitamin K-rich leafy greens like spinach and kale reduce inflammation, as do broccoli and cabbage. So does the substance that gives fruits like cherries, raspberries, and blackberries their color.
Whole grains: Oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and other unrefined grains tend to be high in fiber, and fiber also may help with inflammation.
Beans: They’re high in fiber, plus they’re loaded with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory substances.
Nuts: They have a healthy kind of fat that helps stop inflammation. (Olive oil and avocados are also good.) No more than just a handful of nuts a day, otherwise the fat and calories will add up.
Fish: At least twice a week. Salmon, tuna, and sardines all have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation.
Herbs and spices: They add antioxidants (and flavor) to your food. Turmeric, found in curry powder, does this with a something called curcumin. And garlic limits your body’s ability to make things that increase inflammation.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Anything highly processed, very greasy, or super sweet isn’t a good choice for you if you have inflammation. They also lack nutrients, add to weight gain and other health problems.
Sugar causes your body to release inflammatory messengers called cytokines.
High-fat and processed red meat, butter, whole milk and cheese that has a lot of saturated fat, which can cause inflammation if you get more than a small amount each day. Food with Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) raise LDL (the bad cholesterol) which also causes inflammation.
Fried foods even if cooked in vegetable oil doesn’t make them healthy. Corn oil, safflower oil, and other vegetable oils all have omega-6 fatty acids. You need some omega-6s, but if you get too much your body ends up with more inflammation.
What you eat isn’t a magic cure, but it might help, and it can certainly help improve your overall health and lower chances of having other problems.
2. Use Ice
How many times have we heard the question “should I use ice or heat?” The easy answer is Ice is Nice.
Little conclusive research can identify the most effective choice for pain control. We know to use ice if we sprain our ankle or even injure a knee, why then do we want to reach for heat when we sprain our back or neck? It is often accepted to use ice for the first three days after an injury then switch to heat. Yet this may not always be the best course of action.
Cold and heat have been used for many years after exercise to reduce muscle soreness. Using ice has been accepted as a means of reducing tissue damage and inflammation. It is usually used after sports-related injuries. The purpose of using cold is to reduce swelling and slow metabolism so that edema and injury are reduced. Cold also numbs and reduces pain.
Swelling is a normal reaction of the body to an injury. Sometimes the body goes overboard and the swelling response is too much. When this happens it can actually begin to cause more harm than good.
Acute injuries are easy to recognize: first comes the pain, and then comes the swelling. Chronic or long-term injuries take weeks, sometimes even months, to develop, but it is the same story: first comes the pain, then swelling. Prolonged inflammation and pain can lead to atrophy of the muscles surrounding the joint and a decreased ability to activate the muscles. If not treated appropriately, the swelling can become chronic, or long term. Chronic swelling leads to tissues becoming more rigid and less pliable than their healthy counterpart. Less pliable tissues are more susceptible to further injury.
Heat increases metabolism in tissues and heat helps to relax and can reduce pain. Using heat too early in recovery can cause more damage to the tissue and there is always the risk of severe burns particularly with electric heating pads that stay on for long durations.
Certainly using ice, particularly early on has been known to help manage pain, reduce inflammation and swelling. Use Ice for 20 minutes and hour, or 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off. Using it too long can also cause tissue damage.
3. Get Plenty of Rest
Besides needing sleep to help in the healing process, sleep ultimately controls our overall quality of life. The number of hours of rest we get each night has the power to control anything from our cognitive ability, our safety, to the strength of our immune systems.
A lack of sleep can result in a lowered ability to concentrate and productivity level. It also can hinder creative ability and problem-solving skills. Along with this, a lack of sleep increases the risk of being put in dangerous situations. Getting a good amount of sleep won’t prevent someone from getting sick, but a lack of sleep can negatively affect the immune system leaving someone with a heightened chance of getting a cold or the flu. Make sleep a priority and see how it could positively affect your daily life by making you more alert, improve your mood and certainly help if you are healing from a surgery or injury.
4. Keep pain under control, don’t think you have to “tough it out”
We’ve all heard, “it is easier to keep pain under control then get it back under control.” There is so much concern about opioids today that patient’s often don’t want to take their pain medication as prescribed by their doctor. But your body needs energy to heal. If it is expending too much energy fighting pain, it is taking energy away from the healing process.
Pain control is so important in the recovery process for many reasons. In addition to keeping you comfortable, pain control helps speed your recovery and may reduce your risk of developing certain complications after surgery. Effective pain management allows for earlier mobilization and less chance for developing chronic pain.
While opioids may or may not be appropriate to use after your surgery, your surgeon will likely prescribe a combination of treatments to control pain, lessen the side effects, enable you to resume activity appropriate for recovery and lower risks associated with opioids.
You should take your pain medication regularly, just as prescribed, but there are other ways to help keep your pain under control with little or no opioid use when the time is right.
Other important factors that help with pain control after surgery are the same as recovering from any injury and in general leading a healthy lifestyle:
- getting enough sleep,
- eating well,
- staying hydrated,
- slowly increase physical activity,
- manage stress, and
- avoid things that aggravate the problem area.
We often joke when a patient says “it hurts when I do this” and the therapist says, “then stop doing it.” This may sound funny or even dismissive, but there is truth to it. As much as we want to control pain, pain is sometimes a great indicator of activities that we should avoid or limit during recovery.
The “no pain, no gain” adage does not always apply. Some pain may be unavoidable, such as during appropriate physical therapy, but listening to the body and not over doing it is important. Though pain is a normal experience after surgery and while recovering from an injury. Having your pain controlled is not the same as being pain free. It is important to be patient, mark your miles stones, and be kind to yourself. Healing and recovery take time and require energy.
5. Get Up and Move
Particularly in these current times many people are spending more time sitting and in general living a more sedentary lifestyle. Desk jobs, sitting in front of a computer, watching TV, and even long car rides add up to more time sitting than we realize which can damage our body over time. Lack of movement and poor posture also contributes to many types of aches and pain. Inactive lifestyles can cause stiff joints, alters the physiologic processes of our body and slow down our systems functioning as efficiently as it should. A simple thing as getting out of your chair every 20 to 30 minutes, stretch and walk around your house or office for even a minute or 2 can be very helpful. Remember, the more you move the more you can move. If you don’t use it you will loose it.
6. Manage Stress
Stress is very common, and each person responds differently to life situations and problems. Many people minimize how stress can affect not only mental health but also our physical health.
There are numerous health conditions that are linked with high stress levels. Research studies have proven that psychological stress lowers the immune system and slows down your body’s ability to heal.
Stress causes an increased release of hormones that can increase our blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, which can affect the healing process. The psychological impact of stress can impact emotional states, leading to behaviors that negatively influence immune function; particularly affecting sleep, nutrition and exercise. Higher stress reduces the immune response leading to longer recovery. It is important to reduce stress as much as possible when recovering from an injury or surgery.
Okay, so how can we reduce stress levels? Part of managing stress is to not stress about your injury or recovery. It is important to adjust your expectations and your goals while injured.
Recovery for many people is never as fast as they want and setbacks happen along the way. It is important to measure success based on actual progress and not based on expectations.
When injured it’s easy to think about all the things you can no longer do. It is important to remember this is temporary. By working on your recovery you help regain some control by shifting your focus from what you can’t do to what you can do.
Other ways to help reduce stress—seems there is a repetitive theme with healthy living, pain control and recovering from an injury.
- Exercise: Both aerobic and mindfulness-based have both shown stress relief benefits; reducing heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, hormone levels and improving local tissue healing (Ross & Thomas, 2010). Aerobic exercise can include but is not limited to walking, running and cycling, while a good example of mindfulness-based exercise is yoga.
- Deep breathing, relaxation and mindfulness type activities (e.g. meditation) have shown to be able to reduce stress levels (Chiesa & Serretti, 2009; Rainforth et al., 2007).
- Sleep: quality and amount of sleep assists in stress reduction.
- Eat a healthy diet of plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Ask for help when needed.