5 healing mechanisms to help you heal faster
As physical therapists, we deal with injury every day. Our job is to assist patients in accelerating the healing process. The better a patient manages their injury, the better the outcome. Injuries cause inflammation, pain and movement dysfunction.
A successful recovery depends in large part, on the extent of the injury and how the injury is managed.
Our bodies have a tremendous capacity for healing, if we help it. Often times the very things we do or don’t do cause extended and unnecessary delays in healing.
Many are familiar with the old RICE acronym: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This is a good place to start immediately after an injury, but there is often much more to do.
To maximize your healing, follow these 5 steps:
Manage the swelling
Swelling is the body’s natural reaction to an injury. It occurs as a result of the body bringing in healing nutrients to the area of injury. The swelling is the byproduct of healing reactions. Excessive swelling can delay healing, and cause pain and stiffness. Compression and elevation are 2 good ways to manage swelling. These actions help the body reabsorb and dissipate the excess fluid, allowing the body to flush it out. You can achieve compression with an ACE wrap, a compression-type garment, or a compression pump. Elevation simply means getting the injured body part above your heart level to allow gravity help disperse the swelling.
Manage the activities that put strain on the injured tissues.
If you load an injured tissue with too much force it will have a hard time healing. Working through pain is seldom a good idea. This is where consulting a physical therapist can be beneficial. A physical therapist is skilled at determining what activities will make the injury worse and what activities will make it better. Tissues heal better when the harmful daily activities which can perpetuate the injury, are effectively managed. It’s important to recognize these harmful activities to reduce the likelihood of a repeated injury to the same tissue. Imagine if you keep pulling on an open cut, it certainly will have a hard time healing.
Promote healthy inflammation
Inflammation is our body’s natural way of healing. It’s only when inflammation is prolonged or out of control that poses a problem. Appropriate levels of exercise/activity help manage inflammation naturally. Light resistance exercise will increase circulation to the injured tissue and stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
Another way to improve and manage inflammation is to increase circulation to injured tissues. Soft tissue mobilization stimulates blood flow to the injured tissues. It can be done by hand or with instruments like balls and massage tools. Sometime doctors will use techniques to improve circulation to injured tissues. The only way to accelerate healing is to improve circulation and manage the waste products of the swelling. The better the inflammatory process is managed, the faster the body heals.
Re-condition the injured tissue
Healing tissues need stimulation to grow strong. Physical therapists use modified tension to appropriately load the injured tissue to stimulate healing. The right amount of resistance activities will put light strain on the injured tissue, but at a level that stimulates regeneration. The level of exercise must be below pain threshold to be beneficial. Exercising above pain threshold is not advised and will lead to compensations or delayed healing. The right amount of resistance, challenging but not painful, will produce best results.
Address compensations, muscle imbalances and weaknesses that affect the injured tissue
Each of us have weak, tight muscles that affect our risk for injury. This is where physical therapists use smart or corrective exercise. Corrective exercise promotes movement symmetry. And symmetry of movement has been shown to reduce injury risk. Tight, weak or overdeveloped muscles may contribute to an injury and delay healing. Strengthen the right things and the body will respond positively. Your recovery will be more rapid and complete.
When injuries occur, work through these 5 steps to accelerate the healing process. Consult with a physical therapist if you have any questions.