Taking a Holistic Approach to Sports Injuries

By Dr Guy Ashburner | October 30, 2013

compression and elevation to reduce swelling

Taking a Holistic Approach to Sports Injuries**

Whether you are a trained athlete or new to a sport, injuries can happen to any of us. Taking time out to allow healing can impact upon your fitness and performance, so it’s essential that you take the necessary steps following injury to promote your recovery. While straight after the event it’s important to use ice, compression and elevation to reduce swelling, opinion is divided as to the further care. Taking a strictly medical approach, you would be advised to take an anti-inflammatories such as aspirin or ibuprofen and may be provided with means to immobilise the injury such as a splint, cast or sling. However, these medications are not suitable for everyone and in any case, you may prefer to take a more natural well-rounded approach to aid healing. Osteopathy is an important aspect of a holistic approach to sports injury, helping to relieve muscle tension, improve blood flow and immune function, aid the removal of waste products from the muscles and increase your range of motion, all of which play an important part in tissue recovery. However, there are other simple steps that can be taken to aid repair and restore your musculoskeletal function.

Rest and activity

While a certain degree of rest is obviously important to keep your weight off a leg, knee or ankle injury, or similarly to avoid overexertion that may adversely affect damage to the upper body, it is important that this is balanced with activity. A certain degree of movement is advisable as this not only aids healing, but helps you to maintain your fitness and muscle mass while you recover. There will be some types of movements though that may make a condition worse. It is therefore best to seek guidance from your practitioner as to the amount and type of activity that it is safe for you to do during the recovery period.

Heat therapy

While cold therapy is best immediately after an injury, from two days post- injury, heat therapy is more appropriate. Applying heat improves blood flow to the tissues to supply oxygen and nutrients that promote healing. However, it is also soothing and offers a form of pain relief, providing a more natural method than using anti-inflammatory drugs. Heat packs, wheat bags, hot water bottles or a deep heat spray or gel may all be applied to the injury. However, you do need to be mindful that the heat source isn’t too strong or you may risk tissue burns, though this can be avoided by placing a towel in between your skin and the heat source. For the same reason, it is best to avoid heat therapy if your skin is not in good condition (if it is thin or the skin is broken), you have poor circulation or you have diabetes, as in all instances skin damage is more likely if heat is applied.

Nutrition for healing

Good nutrition isn’t just necessary to fuel your activities and to build muscle, it is also essential to aid healing of muscles and other tissues as well. While you need to maintain a balanced diet, an emphasis should be placed on ensuring you include certain key nutrients known to benefit recovery. An adequate intake of protein is essential for the repair of muscle fibres, which themselves are composed of protein, but other soft tissue injuries and even fractures are dependent on a good supply of dietary protein to aid repair. Including protein with each meal and as part of snacks, if eaten, will ensure sufficient is supplied through the diet. If you avoid meat and other animal produce, adequate protein can still be obtained from pulses, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and soy-based products. Many protein rich foods are also a good source of B vitamins, which play an important role in protein synthesis. However, a good reason to include red meat in the diet is to ensure your iron needs are met, as this allows the tissues to be supplied with an optimal amount of oxygen to promote their recovery. Vegetarians can meet their iron needs through inclusion of eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, pulses, dried fruit and green leafy vegetables, but these need to be eaten with a source of vitamin C to promote the absorption of iron.

Another benefit of plenty of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables in the diet is that they are not only rich in vitamin C, but other antioxidants that help to combat free radicals, which are reactive molecules that otherwise contribute to tissue damage and therefore hinder recovery. Including plenty of fish and other seafood in the diet isn’t just beneficial for heart health, as by promoting a healthy circulation omega-3 fatty acids also encourage healing, as well as having additional anti-inflammatory benefits. However, if you wish to avoid oily fish, smaller quantities of omega-3s can be sourced from flaxseed and rapeseed oil; walnut and hemp oils are also rich in omega-3, but they contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids that actually promote inflammation.

Steps for prevention

While the above steps are concerned with aiding recovery, it is also important to consider how once your injury is healed you will prevent recurrence, as in all instances prevention is better than cure. Ensuring that you warm up, cool down and stretch can all help to prevent injuries to your soft tissues and joints. However, you still need to be aware of your own body’s limitations and to build up your physical activity gradually, no matter what your starting point is. It is also advisable to avoid fitting all of your intense activity into the weekend, instead spreading it over the week. Using appropriate footwear and changing it when it starts to wear out, will help to reduce the likelihood of damage, but also be mindful of the surfaces on which you train - avoid hard or uneven surfaces when running if possible. Finally, no matter what your sport, combine cardio exercise with strength and flexibility training, to ensure your muscles and joints are in good condition, which is one of the best ways to prevent injury.


View a list of common complains that Osteopathy can assist with

Discovery the benefits of Osteopathy