How to maintain wellness while injured

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If you’ve recently broken your wrist from snowboarding, pounded your knee from running, or sprained an ankle by falling off your porch step with your surf gear in hand (…me…), then you might be feeling the drag of defeat. You probably thinks this means a sentence of 6 weeks hard bed rest, slowly losing muscle and gaining the wrong kind of weight.

NOT TRUE! I’ve had my fair share of wrist, ankle and knee injuries (see activities above). Over time I’ve learned that you can stay strong, healthy, and happy while recovering from injury. Here’s how:

1. RICE is NICE

Start your self care with rice. By rice, I don’t mean the grain: I mean Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Treating inflammation using RICE and heat:

  1. Tissue fills with fluid to protect the injury, acting like a tight ACE bandage.
  2. Icing the area reduces swelling around the injury.
  3. Add heat after icing to encourage blood flow to the area.
  4. After ice/heat, compress the wound by wrapping it to discourage further inflammation. A wrap will also immobilize the wound, allowing for further rest.

If left untreated, inflammation encourages the growth of scar tissue that can affect long term mobility.

2. Adapt your eating habits

Before you can restart any sort of activity, you will have to be more mindful about eating habits. You body will let you know it isn’t craving as much food as usual, but it is important for you to manage your own changing nutrient needs.

Reducing portion size is a must. Using a fitness calculator (like Map My Fitness) allows you to calculate nutritional needs, input food and monitor consumption. For example, when I am active, I require about 2,400 calories/day to maintain my weight. Since I am injured and have had to reduce activity, I should eat 2,100 calories per day (check your needs using the Interactive DRI for Health Professionals).

Aside from caloric intake, your nutrient needs should change to encourage recovery. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, important nutrients include:

  • Protein for rebuilding muscle AND bone.
  • Vitamin C and Zinc for repairing tendons, ligaments and surgical wounds. A note on zinc: try to get it from food sources (like animal products, whole grains or beans), since a high-dose supplement can cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D for bone repair. Get calcium from food, but go lay in the sun for Vitamin D!
  • Fiber to maintain healthy digestion, since some pain medications can cause constipation.

3. Try new exercises…as long as they don’t hurt

After the acute stage of injury, and with a doctor’s go-ahead, you can begin to experiment with other forms of activity that don’t irritate your injury. I found that, with a sprained ankle,  I could ride a stationary bike at low resistance. With a sprained wrist, you can modify yoga asanas using forearm plank and focusing on lower body, core and stretching. Injuries may prevent you from following your usual routine, but you can use this time to train other muscle groups and flexibility.

4. Above all, don’t fret

What do dancing, hiking, rock climbing, yoga and surfing have in common? They are all activities I’ve had to give up in some way or another after I sprained my ankle two weeks ago. My workout regime consisted of only these activities, so losing them left me wandering. I became very low, wondering how I could possibly make it through recovery and a new class schedule without my greatest stress relievers.

After a few days of face-down-on-the-pillow syndrome, I decided to develop my own routine to maintain my baseline fitness, physique, and joy. I also took the time to focus on my food choices, reading, and promoting positivity. Now I feel compelled to share this message with all of you: be flexible and practice self care, because you will eventually heal. Until then, you have time to focus on tasks or hobbies that would have been otherwise sidelined.

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