Nutrition: Can it help you Recover Faster?

With summer on the way many of us start thinking more about our beach bodies, and therefore what we’re eating. We all know that what we put into our bodies can change the way we look on the outside, but what we eat can have just as much effect on our internal systems.

Our diet can influence our mood, energy levels, brain function and even how well we recover from injuries. In this blog I’m going to discuss a few of these topics and how tweaking your diet can provide a real benefit.

Fats are not the Enemy!

A myth that still seems to be very present in modern society is that fat is bad for you. Fats are not the enemy. Fats are in-fact essential to so many of our internal systems, and the RIGHT type of fats (such as those found in fish, nuts, seeds, avocado’s, olives) can actually help in keeping our metabolism high, and our bodyweight down. In relation to our recovery though, here are some of the main benefits from getting enough of the good fats in your diet:

  • Anti-inflammatory effects – the effects of Omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish and olive oils) have been shown to help reduce inflammation at higher dosages. This can be of benefit in a new injury where inflammation is a major factor, or in more longstanding conditions like osteoarthritis where inflammation is still present. This could be of real benefit and possible alternative if you cant stomach anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Optimise the central nervous system – Our nerves are all covered in fat to help with the transmission of signals, and a high proportion of our brain is also made up of fat. Good fats such as those mentioned above can help reduce inflammation in the brain, improve repair of nerves and improve nerve signalling which in turn can help us when trying to regain movement and strength of an injured area.
  • Disease prevention – Research has also shown that good dietary fat can help reduce the risk of heart disease, and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Another reason to make sure you stock up on your olives, fish, avocados and nuts!

Protein: The Building Blocks for Repair

Proteins are essential for our growth and repair. When you’ve sustained an injury and have to spend more time watching Netflix, you might think you don’t need as much protein. Your protein requirements are however still higher than for someone who is uninjured but inactive. This is due to the need to rebuild damaged structures, and lay down new collagen for scar tissue.

Maintaining a sufficient level of protein in your diet can also help reduce the amount of muscle wastage that might occur from having to rest. Certain amino acids (the things proteins are made up of) have been shown in research to be particularly beneficial in reducing muscle loss. Trying to get a good portion of meat, chicken, fish or nuts at each meal should go a long way here.

Carbohydrates and Energy Requirements

Unlike proteins and fats which are essential to our health and survival (providing certain nutrients we can only get from food), carbohydrates are not technically essential. We can survive and be perfectly healthy without potatoes, rice and bread even if we do crave them sometimes!

Carbohydrate intake is still something you need to consider when injured. I like to think of carbohydrates at the extra source of energy to top up your calories after eating enough of your  good fats and proteins. This can however mean finding a balance; eating too much when resting after an injury could lead to weight gain and therefore make things harder further down the line when trying to return to fitness. On the other hand, not taking onboard enough energy could leave you depleted, fatigued and actually hamper your recovery. Using an online calorie calculator or calorie tracking apps such as myfitnesspal can be useful here.

Vitamins and Minerals

So now you’ve considered the three main food types to help you recover. Job done? Not quite. The often overlooked area of vitamins and minerals is just as important to helping your recovery and boosting your general health.

I always think its better to get these through natural foods such as fruits and veg rather than a vitamin supplement, as our body can more easily process and absorb the nutrients from natural sources. Vitamin C can be found in peppers, oranges, and kiwis and is essential for tissue healing. Calcium is also important and can be found in dairy products or broccoli. Zinc plays a role in tissue healing, however this can be found in seeds, nuts and fish, so by eating those things, you can take care of a good amount of your protein, fat and mineral needs in one go!

On a personal note, I can attest to the benefits of increasing my fruit and vegetable intake, finding improved digestion, energy and focus through the day. A good tip I’ve found helpful is trying to make sure you eat all the different coloured fruit and veg you can find. Having this variety means you should get all the vitamins and minerals you need without having to put much thought into it.

Junk food

If you’re feeling sorry for yourself after sustaining an injury, try to resist the urge to comfort eat on junk food. Eating food high in saturated and trans-fats (thinking of the stuff from your local kebab shop, pizza place or burger joint) can actually increase inflammation in the body. Something you don’t want when your body is already processing inflammation from an injury. The negative effects of junk food on digestion and general energy levels also need to be taken into consideration.

The take-home message – what you eat can make a difference to both your health and recovery from injury. A lot of the nutrients mentioned above should be part of a healthy balanced diet anyway, and for most of us it might only mean a few tweaks to get the most from your nutrition. Doing this alongside your physiothearpy treatment should help you get back to your best, that little bit quicker. Thats it for another month, keep a look out for our next update.

Why Sleep Matters.

It is a time of great political uncertainty. Teresa May is running through fields of wheat instead of running our country, and the UK is about to start the overwhelming task of leaving the EU. The thought of all this may have you troubled, perhaps even to the point of keeping you up at night. If that’s the case and you’re struggling to read this through half-closed eyes, the focus of this months blog on sleep might be of interest to you.

In this article I’m going to touch on why sleep is important, the effects of sleep deprivation and more importantly (as this is a blog on a physiotherapy website) how sleep can impact on injury and recovery.

Here are the main reasons we need a good 40 winks:

  • Maintaining brain function – Removal of waste products from the brain when sleeping helps keep us sharp and focused during the day.
  • Formation of memories – the memories from each day are processed during sleep, as our subconscious brain can process and organise things better without interruption from our waking mind.
  • Aid immune function – white blood cell counts increase during sleep which helps our immune system fight disease and infections.
  • Growth and repair – Hormones are also released during sleep to aid with muscle growth and recovery as well as regulate blood sugars and appetite.

 
The flip-side of not getting enough sleep (apart from dozing off in boring meetings and making a fool out of yourself) are:

  1. Reduced brain function, with decision making is impaired. Reaction times can slow comparable that of being drunk.
  2. Poorer memory retention and capacity to learn. The ability to store information when revising for a test when tired can be reduced. It’s why ‘last minute late night cramming’ isn’t the best tactic.
  3. Increased likelihood of getting bugs and colds.
  4. Increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
  5. Poorer recovery.

 

As mentioned previously, sleep can also play a significant role in relation to injury. When tired and fatigued risk of sustaining injuries such as mechanical low back pain can increase. If you play sport you are also at an increased risk of getting injured when tired. Once you have an injury, lack of sleep can also impair healing, by reducing the release of growth hormones and increasing the release of stress hormones which put the breaks on repair and recovery.

Physiotherapy and Sleep

Sleep is something physiotherapists have paid a lot more attention to in recent years, as it’s been shown that poor sleep can increase the likelihood of injuries turning into long term problems. Sleep can however be disturbed for many reasons. Most of which physiotherapists can help advise on, or point people in the right direction to get help.

If sleep is disturbed due to raging nerve pain, then the most appropriate treatment might be some neuropathic medication through the GP. If someone is struggling with flashbacks after an accident, getting some help from one of the psychological therapies might be the best course of action. If the issue is stress, negative thoughts around an injury and not being able to switch off, our advice on ‘sleep hygiene’ might be of benefit.

Sleep Hygiene..

If you’re not familiar with this term, you might think it just means having a wash before you go to bed. Incorrect. This actually refers to the habits around our sleep, and environment we sleep in. Here are some of the most important points to consider:

  • Take time to switch off – Make sure you take an hour or more before bed where you’re not doing anything that stimulates the mind. This means avoiding answering snotty emails, or getting involved in heated arguments on Facebook. Try to unplug from technology during this time.
  • Think about room lighting – In the hour before bed, try and stay in a dimly lit room to get your mind ready. When sleeping, try and make sure the room is properly dark.
  • Avoid stimulants – Drinking caffeine before bed is never a good idea. If you’ve ever been on a night out and gone hard on the Jäegerbombs, you might be familiar with waking up a lot earlier than normal and having very broken sleep thereafter. Caffeine can stop us getting to sleep and can make the sleep we have less restful.
  • Getting enough! – Making sure you get the right amount of sleep for you, depending on your age is very important. Keeping this in mind and not binge-watching series on Netflix into the small hours is a wise move. Trying to avoid naps in the day can also help ensure you feel tired at the right time, and keep you in your sleep routine day to day.

 

In the modern non-stop world, more and more people are not getting the sleep they need. Knowing its value and how to get a better more restful night can make a massive impact on your health, mental function through the day and recovery when injured. Hopefully this article has been of some benefit, and if you feel sleep is something that you struggle with, mention it to your physio at next appointment, as they may be able to make a positive change. Thats it for another month, stay tuned for our next article! 

5 Exercises You Should Probably be Doing

I am occasionally guilty of procrastinating. I hold my hands in the air and admit it. I open up my Facebook app and have a scroll to see what’s going on in the world. My scrolling often gets side-tracked when I happen upon links with headlines such as “the one trick that will…” or “try this life hack and never waste another…”. Running with that theme, I thought I’d write my own clickbait article. Hopefully after reading this (and then getting back to what you were supposed to be doing), you might have at least gained something useful.

This is a short (and by no means exhaustive) list of exercises I often prescribe as part of my physiotherapy treatment. These are exercises I think most people could or should be able to do in some form or another, and can provide real benefit to your everyday life and function.

1. Squats

Squats often get a bad reputation. Many people find them difficult, but I’ve found I can nearly always find a variation of the exercise that is a lot more comfortable and manageable even for those with knee pain. A few tweaks to the foot position, use of aids, or altering how the hips move can be the key to getting this movement right for you. Everyone is individual with different proportions, so what works for one person might not work for someone else.

“Squats aren’t bad for your knees, how you squat is bad for your knees”

Getting the technique right, then adding load over time can be a great tool in fighting osteoporosis, and can also help reduce the risk of falls for the elderly. Increasing strength on this exercise (as part of a balanced training routine) can help improve athletic performance in sports and help in reducing injury risk.

2. Shoulder External Rotation

Due to evolving as tool using primates, the majority of tasks we perform day-to-day involve using our arms in front of us. Because of this, most of us tend to be overactive or dominant in the muscles involved in moving our arms forward and together. Something I often find when looking at injured shoulders is weakness in the muscles that do the opposite job, at the back of our shoulders.

I therefore often prescribe an exercise that strengthens shoulder external rotation as part of my treatment. Here are a few examples of ones I like to prescribe; one with a resistance band, another with a weight.

3. Above Head Press

Another shoulder exercise, but I feel I couldn’t leave this one out. I like to think of above head press as the squat of the upper body; working many different things with great carryover into function.

Whether you have a desk job don’t move your shoulders much at all, or you have a physical job where you’re using your shoulders all the time, this is an exercise that could benefit you to either just get things moving or increase your shoulders capacity for work. This can even be useful when trying to return to function after sustaining a whiplash injury with proper guidance from your physio.

4. Kneeling Flexion Stretch

Although there is a bias for strengthening in this list, we can’t forget mobility. The kneeling flexion stretch or known as the ‘child pose’ in the yoga world is a really nice exercise that does lots of things in one.

The primary benefit is to aid lumbar flexion, something many of us find restricted. This can be a useful exercise as part of a program for helping general mechanical back pain, spinal stenosis and even tight restricted hips. This is also something I’ve considered as an alternative for improving shoulder mobility (and stretching the lats) if people find standing exercises difficult.

5. A Standing Single Leg Exercise

Ok, this last one is a bit of a cheat because its quite vague.. Being slightly more specific, I’m thinking about movements such as the single leg squat or a split stance squat where you have to stand and use your balance either solely using one leg or more one leg than the other.

Doing an exercise working one side at a time can highlight differences in strength and control. This can show you where you might need to spend more time working if you want to improve athletic performance. A low level single leg standing balance exercise can even help us keep agile and steady as we get older.

So there you go.. a few of my favourite exercises that I give out on a regular basis. As mentioned at the start, this isn’t a solve-everything list. You’re needs might be different depending on your hobbies, work, or injury history, and going to see your physio for advice on reducing pain and keeping fit is always a good idea! Hopefully reading this hasn’t reduced your work productivity for today too much, and at least given you some food for thought on things you might want to add to your routine.