Jesse Lewis, PT, DPT
It’s easy to get frustrated when recovering from an injury takes longer than expected. While sometimes it will just take more time, there can be other reasons you aren’t getting better that you haven’t even thought about. Strength, flexibility, mobility, core stability, are well known factors that go into recovering from an injury. But sleep, stress, and nutrition are almost just as important to staying healthy and getting back to 100% after an injury. If you’re not improving things like your strength and mobility, you might be costing yourself time in your recovery.
Between work, kids, exercise, and everything else going on in your life, it’s easy to put sleep lower on your list of priorities. But getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do to recover from and prevent an injury. Without proper sleep, you don’t fully recover from a stressful day at work, or a hard workout at the gym, or on the trail. If you do that enough days in a row, your body is slowly wearing down and an injury is more likely to occur. If you are recovering from an injury, then your body isn’t able to recover as quickly without the right amount of sleep. So, what’s the right amount of shut-eye? Most guidelines call for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. If you’re regularly getting 5-6 hours a night, or even if you’re getting 7 and feeling worn down when you wake up, you will almost definitely recover from that injury quicker by adding an hour or two of sleep each night.
Everyone has stress. It’s a part of life. How much and how you handle it is what makes a difference. If you are under high stress for an extended period of time, your body is not able to handle physical or mental demands without breaking down. A physical wound takes about 40% longer to heal when you are stressed than when you aren’t?1 True story. You’re also more likely to be injured. If you are frustrated by how long it’s taking to heal, this is a great place to make some changes to speed things up. Stress relief can come from any number of forms: meditation, reading, exercise, social outings. Find what works for you, and also work on finding small ways to reduce stress in the first place.
Diet affects your weight, and also affects how you feel. If you have a vacation week, or weekend of eating whatever you want, you probably feel bloated, sluggish, and like you need to “go on a diet” for a month. Your eating habits also impact your recovery from injury. Without the right building blocks of nutrition, you can’t heal a sprained ligament or inflamed tendon. When you put better fuel in, you have more energy and better ability to regenerate what’s broken. You don’t need to make massive alterations to your diet to see changes. An easy place to start is by getting more protein each day. Doing that is a simple way to see some changes in how quickly your body can bounce back from an injury.
Making small improvements with any of these factors can make a big difference in how quickly you get back to doing what you love. Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to completely change everything you’re doing. Make one small change today, and use that to make bigger changes next week.
1Gouin, J. P., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2011). The impact of psychological stress on wound healing: methods and mechanisms. Immunology and allergy clinics of North America, 31(1), 81–93. doi:10.1016/j.iac.2010.09.010