Let’s start by “geeking out” on the injury process for soft tissue and bone injuries, then we will delve into what everyone wants to know…how do I heal? However, its important for you to know what is going on when you get injured, so you are not tempted to rush the recovery process. Read on for more information on the healing process, and dietary supplements which encourage healing.
Inflammation: When tissues are injured, they are deprived of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. The damage and reduced blood flow then lead to cell death, which causes the body to initiate the inflammatory process; the first stage of injury recovery. This process clears out the damaged cells and replaces them with new ones. Inflammation usually causes three things: pain, swelling, and redness/heat. The pain comes from chemicals involved in injury repair, which interact with pain receptors and from the swelling on nerve endings. The swelling is a result of fluid seeping through damaged blood vessels into the damaged tissues. Vasodilation above the injury and constriction from below the injury shunt additional blood to the injured area, producing the heat and redness.
Proliferation: The next stage of injury recovery is proliferation. Once the damaged tissues have been removed from the area, restoration of oxygen and nutrient flow allow fibroblast proliferation. This is the stage in which collagen and fibronectin are laid down forming scar tissue. Scar tissue lays down in alignment with forces placed on the injured area, and shortens and contracts. Rehabilitation and physical therapy are critical to proper healing, because they counteract the shortening and contracting of the scar tissue.
Remodeling: The last stage is remodeling, which happens when strong collagen replaces scar tissue. The new tissue will not be as strong as uninjured tissue, but the strength of the new tissue may be more than 80% of the strength of uninjured tissue. Functional activities, conducted via rehabilitation and physical therapy, are essential throughout the recovery process in order to manage the length of the scar tissue and arrangement of the tissue pattern.
Bone Healing: Bone healing undergoes a process similar to the soft tissue repair process. The first stage is swelling, in which bleeding from the fractured bone and surrounding tissues causes an area to swell. Next, a soft callus forms as the pain and swelling decrease. Then, the fracture site stiffens as new bone forms. The new bone is weak and incomplete, until a hard callus forms. Finally, the fracture remodels itself and corrects any remaining deformities. This final stage of the process can last years.
While these stages of the tissue and bone healing processes may be very uncomfortable, we need the inflammatory process for repair. Without inflammation, injuries don’t heal. Therefore, in the initial stages of an acute injury, it is best to NOT try and eliminate inflammation. However, differences exist between an acute injury and chronic injuries. Excessive and prolonged inflammation, due to chronic injuries, can lead to other problems, such as ongoing tissue destruction. This why anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed by physicians for chronic pain and we need to manage inflammation for certain injuries.
Let’s get to what you really want to hear – how do you get better? Properly treating injuries requires managing inflammation. We want to reduce pain and compression, which may lead to secondary injuries. However, the tactics used to eliminate pain often target inflammation. If you eliminate pain and inflammation too soon, you can also reduce proper healing. So what can you do – you can make your nutrition do the work for you.
While whole foods are always the best for treating injuries, dietary herbs and mineral supplements can help manage inflammation and encourage healing. The following highlights certain highly beneficial supplements.
Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory agent and has long been used in wound healing. The active ingredient, curcumin, is responsible for many of the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric. You can add turmeric to the foods you eat throughout the day. However, using 400-600 mg, 2-3x per day, of supplemental turmeric is usually more manageable.
Garlic has also been shown to inhibit the activity of inflammatory enzymes. As with turmeric, eating garlic at each meal is a good strategy, but consuming more garlic is needed in order to achieve the desired anti-inflammatory effects. The therapeutic dosage of garlic is typically 2-4 g of whole garlic clove each day, or a daily dose of 600-1200 mg of supplemental aged garlic extract.
Bromelain is an anti-inflammatory plant extract derived from pineapple. Bromelain is an excellent anti-inflammatory and analgesic compound, even though it is best known for aiding digestion. Typically bromelain is taken in a 500-1000 mg dose, once per day.
Gotu Kola is a lesser known herb that has a variety of healing effects. Most importantly, it decreases the inflammatory reaction in the body and promotes wound and tissue healing. It can also have a positive affect on the nervous system by combating depression and stress, and the circulatory system by improving blood flow and strengthening the veins and capillaries. Gotu Kola can also improve brain function.
Flavonoids are found in cocoa, tea, red wine, fruits, and vegetables. They are powerful antioxidants that can help manage inflammation and help cell signaling. For most people, eating more fruits and vegeatables is important, moreso when recovering from acute injuries. Flavonoid supplements, such as blueberry, grape, green tea, and citrus extracts, or bioflavonoid supplements containing quercetin and rutin, have more powerful anti-inflammatory effects than other fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidants stop free radicals and inhibit the production of enzymes that cause irritation and pain. Eat more red, blue, and purple berries – the darker the fruit, the better. Berries provide an abundance of antioxidants; raspberries are one of the best berries because they contain a rare antioxidant called ellagitannin. Ellagitannins help reduce inflammation, help fight cancer, heal damaged tissue and wounds, and can even help prevent heart disease and lower blood pressure.
Melatonin is a therapeutic hormone that helps you sleep, aids in muscle regeneration and decreases oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals that interact with other molecules within your cells. This can cause oxidative damage to proteins, membranes and genes, which has been implicated in the cause of many diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer disease. Therefore, reducing oxidative stress is extremely important, especially for people who are frequently exposed to outdoor pollution and toxins, such as athletes. Sleep is also important to injury recovery because a lack of sleep has been shown to trigger inflammation. Melatonin can speed up the recovery process and decrease inflammation. 1 to 3 mg, one hour before bed, is a safe and sufficient dose.
Remember, during the recovery from an acute injury, you want to manage inflammation, not completely suppress it. Some of the best healers are found in the foods you already eat. However, if the inflammation becomes a chronic problem, supplements will help.
Are there any other supplemental herbs or remedies you have found helpful during a time of injury? Please comment and help your fellow athletes.