Any athlete, professional or recreational, knows one bad twist or bend can put them out of their favorite activity for months. It’s easy to push off appointments and assume time will heal any nagging pain. If you are still in pain after a week or two, book an appointment with an orthopedist or physical therapist immediately. Shoulder, knee, and back injuries can lead to major problems or surgery if ignored long enough. Once you know what’s wrong, you can work with a therapist to strengthen and stretch the appropriate muscles to reduce pain and prevent further imbalances. If you need surgery or require time off, consider these strategies to encourage healing.
1) Keep calm and listen to your therapist
Losing strength and muscle is a common fear among injured athletes. Yes, it sucks to struggle with basic daily activities after surgery, but ignoring pain can result in further injury. The first few days after surgery, take it easy. Once you are cleared for therapy, focus all of your energy on the exercises prescribed by your therapist. Talk to your therapist about your concerns of losing muscle. After an elbow surgery last year, my therapist recommended back and shoulder flies with no weight and a slow tempo. These exercises probably didn’t help grow the muscles in my back, but they kept me from obsessing over muscle loss and gave me something to focus on. A good therapist will listen to your concerns and give you the tools to stay fit.
2) Diet is key
Eat well before and after surgery. Prioritize vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats at every meal. You may have to cut back on portion sizes after surgery. It may help to add more vegetables and lean protein to help replace any processed foods in your diet. The protein and antioxidants will help reduce inflammation and enhance healing. Indulge in omega-3 rich salmon, herring, or mackerel 2-3 times per week to help reduce inflammation. Consider supplementing with 2-4g of fish oil after surgery to help with healing. If meal preparation is an issue, consider a food delivery service until you can start cooking again.
3) Think about what you CAN do
If you spent hours at the gym or on the trails before your injury, chances are you now have a ton of time on your hands. This gives you more time to focus on the other important things in life, like your family, friends, and other enjoyable activities. Sometimes it takes a major setback to realize what you have.
Megan is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer in the Baltimore area. Her mission is to connect people with nutrition and fitness information that makes sense – information that is reliable, realistic, and fun.