It’s devastating to have an injury, but that’s just the beginning. When you’re pulling 800 pounds on a seated row and your biceps snap, the initial pain is the least of your problems. Likely, you’ll go get surgery and then begin the period of time every bodybuilder dreads: Recovery and rehab.
Unfortunately, people who are accustomed to spending all their time in the gym aren’t very good patients.
In fact, if you work out an average of 4-5 days a week, couch surfing can be miserable. The tendency to eat while on the couch is also one of the perils of recovery. But don’t despair, coming back from an injury can be broken down into a step by step process that can leave you feeling a lot more in control than you may imagine.
First off, if you haven’t been injured before, then listen up, because this is the single best advice you’ll ever get: If you tear a muscle, pull a tendon or do some other soft tissue damage, remember one thing: You need to be proactive about your recovery IMMEDIATELY! That means, get ice on the area pronto! Compression is also key, so if it’s a biceps, for example, take an ice pack and surround your arm, and then tie something on to hold it, tight. If you can sit someplace where you can somewhat elevate the injury, do that too. That’s what I.C.E. actually means. But I’d add another letter to that to spell: I.C.I.E.
While you do all of that, don’t forget to take ibuprofen – and a LOT of it. Forget what you have heard in the debate about NSAIDs, just remember one thing: inflammation is not your friend!
I like saying it that way, because the faster you can beat inflammation, the less damage you’re actually doing. For as much as the body protects you, or tries to, from what has just happened, a lot of times it’s counterproductive to a rapid recovery. Taking at least 800-1000mg of ibuprofen within minutes of it happening is key. Continue with 800mg doses for the first 24-48 hours, because they are the most crucial. You can do about 4 doses of that strength throughout a day without, in any way, hurting your body.
Next, go have a doctor look at it and ascertain whether you need surgery or not. I tore my calf in 2003, doing something really stupid, and I thought for sure I’d ruptured my Achilles tendon. I didn’t, fortunately, but the muscle tear was enough to feel like I was completely unable to put weight on that leg. Luckily, I didn’t need surgery, but did all of what I talked about, stayed off of it in non-weight bearing crutches, and it healed well.
Here are some things, whether you need surgery or not, to help you recover faster:
~ I.C.I.E. when you are first injured.
~ Stay off of the leg if it’s a lower limb or have your arm taped to your side or slung to the side of your body. Refrain from using it, despite how little you think you are using it. Pretend that appendage or muscle group doesn’t exist. If it hurts, you’re using it.
~ Find whatever means to keep a comfortable sleep schedule. If sleeping downstairs in the couch or guest room to avoid your partner rolling on you and reinsuring you is what it takes, then do it.
~ Ice often! Inflammation that is iced immediately is the most crucial, but ongoing icing is great.
~ Moist heat therapy – I’m talking whirlpool action, or hot moist towels – they loosen up the blood pooled in there and clear it out, as well as making it feel better. NO DRY HEAT. That causes inflammation. Moist does not.
~ Workouts: This is tricky, but you can usually get back into the gym and not work that body part. Unless you are on crutches, then I would not advise it because you can trip, fall, or lose your balance and reinjure yourself.
- Going into the gym is really important for your head. Get in there and work around your injury to maintain what you have.
- Invest in physical therapy – hopefully your insurance pays for it and you’re insured. If not though, go to a physical therapy website to see what they do for specific injuries.
- Massage is key. Sounds like it’s just for enjoyment, but it can really get circulation to the area. Be sure the person massaging you knows how to touch the area to avoid injuring it. It may hurt a little, but as long as it’s not an injury sort of hurt, it will actually benefit you.
- If you have a joint injury that has scar tissue, you should work with a P.T. but if you can’t afford one, gently work through the range of motion in the joint in small bits. If you injured your ankle, point and flex back and forth until that’s comfortable. Do ankle circles in both directions. Your body will tell you if what you’re doing is just hurting because it’s sore, or hurting because you’re doing something wrong.
Rest is super important though. Don’t overdo the last one. When in doubt, do nothing, but remember that mobility is important to healing. We used to think just the opposite – that we shouldn’t move anything after an injury and surgery. But the fact is, mobilizing it is key for getting back in the saddle. Immobility, and constant rest only makes the potential for scar tissue greater and recovery harder. It’s one reason they get you up out of your hospital bed right after surgery. Get moving or get stiff.
Supplements that can help are glucosamine and chondroitin, calcium supplements, antioxidants in large amounts (C and B in gram doses and double a normal dose for A and E). Glutamine can also help, as well as any kind of recovery supplement you currently take.
Make sure to keep your spirits up and keep busy. The biggest mistake people make is sitting around moping and getting depressed about not being able to resume a normal schedule. Accept that it sucks and that you are laid up, and do what you can, when you can. Eat healthy, walk the treadmill (if it’s an upper body injury) and stay looking your best. Atrophy is a temporary condition and muscle memory is magic. Don’t sweat losing size, you’ll get it back. Just don’t get fat, depressed, angry or overdo it. All of those things will keep you from a faster recovery!
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