Injured? These strategies will help speed your healing.
You may continue to run if slowing down allows you to log kilometres without pain and with proper form, says Lewis Maharam, a sports-medicine doctor. “Running while recovering from muscle strains or tears brings blood flow to the area and helps the muscle heal properly,” he says. However, don’t run if an injury changes your gait, or if you have a stress reaction or fracture. In those cases, keep up a routine with no-impact cross-training, such as pool running or swimming. If you were running four times per week, having something to do instead will help you maintain fitness and sanity.
Foam rolling and dynamic stretches will pump healing blood to injured tissues and improve range of motion, says Michael Conlon, physical therapist. “Many times runners think, I’m not running! I don’t need to keep doing these things! – but it’s almost more important to make them part of your daily routine now,” he says. Roll then stretch, before and after a workout. Skip any stretches that aggravate your injury or feel painful.
If you’re logging fewer kilometres, you should scale back on dietary indulgences such as pizza, ice cream and fries to avoid weight gain. But don’t crash-diet: your body burns kilojoules in order to heal, so you may need more than you think, according to a 2015 study. Taking in enough protein is especially important: “Protein is broken down into amino acids, which are your body’s building blocks to repair muscle tissue,” says Maharam. Include a healthy protein source, such as eggs, fish or beans, in every meal.
Should you pop a pill? Some studies have found that NSAIDs like ibuprofen can inhibit healing by interfering with the process that causes both inflammation and tissue repair. Others, including a 2012 review, say that occasional use won’t hinder muscle regeneration. Sports medicine doctor Nathaniel S. Jones says the takeaway lies in the middle: because pain disrupts sleep, over-the-counter meds may help you log the Zs required to stimulate the overnight healing process needed for muscle repair. Limit the use of anti-inflammatories at other times – taking them long-term can lead to stomach and/or kidney damage.
BEWARE OF BOOZE
Though you might want to drown your sorrows: “Avoid drinking alcohol in the 48 hours after your injury,” says Matthew Barnes, Ph.D., author of a study about alcohol’s effect on recovery, published in 2014. Alcohol can lead to more swelling and slower recovery. Once two full days have passed, your body’s healing process is well under way, so you may imbibe per the Australian Department of Health’s recommendations for healthy men and women: no more than two standard drinks a day.
If you run to blow off steam, you’ll likely need to find another form of physical activity to manage your stress. “Not only does stress cause the body to release hormones that affect healing and recovery,” says Jones, “but having an injury in itself can cause stress.” Try yoga, meditation or gentle hiking in a quiet, scenic setting – a 2015 Stanford University study found that a 90-minute nature walk reduced negative thinking more effectively than a walk in an urban area.