Just last week, I was recovering from one of the worst neck injuries I have ever had. One night I slept in a bad position, and the next day I lifted something I shouldn’t have, all to be stuck with a neck in excruciating pain for over a week.
I couldn’t sleep comfortably, carry my purse or my backpack, or even sit at my computer, much less keep up my workout routine. One move of my neck in the wrong direction, and I had tears rolling down my face.
Recovering from an injury can be incredibly uncomfortable and frustrating. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for this article), I’ve had many experiences with recovering from injuries, and by now I have the formula figured out.
While my neck injury paled in comparison to bone breaks and ligament tears (which I have also dealt with in the past), I was able to put some key practices into place to recover as quickly as possible.
Below are a few tips on how to quickly recover from a muscle injury. Remember, however, if you are seriously injured, it is important to talk to a specialist before putting any of these tips into practice — this is one of the most important tips to follow. Sometimes the injury is much worse than we had originally believed, and when we try to self-treat, we only cause the injury to intensify.
1. Hot-cold therapy
This is one of my go-to methods of recovering from injury. Hot-cold therapy, also called hot-cold contrast, is especially effective if you implement it in the first few days after your injury.
This method entails exposing the injured area to a period of hot, followed by a period of cold. This helps to increase the flow of by-products of inflammation and slowly alleviate nerve pain. It also just feels good to alleviate swollen muscles and joints with cold and heat.
Some ways you can implement hot-cold therapy are:
Switch between an ice pack and a hot pad on the injured area. Start with the ice pack for 20 seconds, then switch to the hot pad for 10 seconds. Repeat this 5-10 times.
If you don’t have a hot pad, you can perform this in the shower by changing the water between hot and cold, with the same intervals as above.
If you have access to a sauna, sit in the sauna for 5-10 minutes, then jump into a cold shower for 2 minutes.
2. Foam rolling
A foam roller is a light foam cylinder that ranges in density and in length. You can put it on the floor lengthwise and lie down on top of it so the injured area is supported by the foam roll. Then, you rock your body back and forth so the foam roll massages around the injured area.
I don’t know what I would do without my foam roller. When I have a sore back or hip, or if I’m tender from working out my quads, I take some time on my foam roller. If you have never used a foam roller before, it is important that you consult your doctor or physical therapist in order to ensure you aren’t hurting yourself.
If you have injured muscles (and have the okay from your doctor), spread out on the floor and use the foam roller to do some deep tissue work. You may want to start 1-2 times a week and work up to doing it every day until you feel better. Foam rolling is also good for preventing future injuries.
3. Anti-inflammatory diet
Truth be told, I love food. This is especially true when I know food has the potential to be an ally in any sort of treatment or recovery. The key foods here are ones that naturally have anti-inflammatory properties and can help alleviate your aches and pains. Some of these include:
Salmon and other fresh fish: Salmon is very high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, many studies have compared the effectiveness of an Omega-3 supplement with ibuprofen as an anti-inflammatory, and it was just as effective. Because it is natural, it is also much safer with fewer negative side effects.
Berries: Berries contain flavonoids, an antioxidant that limits inflammation and improves circulation, among other things. Some of the berries highest in antioxidants are blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, with cranberries at the very top of the list.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is key in promoting collagen formation and helping to prevent damage to tissues. Collagen is a protein that is found in connective tissue. Pineapple, kiwi, citrus fruits, and papaya all have a significant amount of Vitamin C.
When you are exhausted, your muscles get tense, worsening the pain caused by an injury. Sleeping relaxes muscles and facilitates the healing process.
It is important, however, to find the right position for your injury. If you are suffering from a back injury, you might want to sleep face up with a pillow under your knees. If you hurt your neck, like I did, make sure to avoid too many pillows. Your head should be elevated just enough to create a relatively straight line from the top of your head to your lower back, and you should feel completely relaxed.
Putting these practices into place before getting injured may help you prevent these injuries to begin with.
National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain
National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief
Web MD: Antioxidants in Fruits