We had a great outdoor bootcamp fitness session with Innovations Fitness today but can already feel the start of the dreaded DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)!
Here are our top tips for recovering quickly after exercise:
1- Replace fluids: Drinking plenty of water helps flush out toxins from your body and prevent dehydration (this can make muscle soreness even more painful!) Try to consume at least 2 litres water a day, more if you have been doing vigorous exercise.
2- Consuming a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein either before, or after a workout, or both, may help reduce the severity of muscle soreness.
3- Get some rest! Good quality sleep is a must, as running a constant sleep debt can impair recovery. If you’re tired, you’re also unlikely to be able to work as hard as you’d like during your workouts, and this will stop you from acheiving your workout goals.
4- Stretch and keep moving! Stretching and keeping gentle active after exercise helps remove lactic acid (waste products from exercise that builds up in the muscles) and can also help prevent muscles from stiffening or cooling too rapidly, causing pain.
5- Ice baths may aid recovery as they cause your blood vessels to constrict and dilate, helping remove waste products in the tissues. Not brave enough for an ice bath? Try contrast therapy in the shower- alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat four times with a minute of moderate temperatures between each hot-cold spray.
How well do you understand the pain you experience?
Pain is defined as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”, which is an interesting concept in itself as the definition clearly states that pain can be tangible, or simply mean that the potential for damage is there.
The amount of pain you experience does not relate to the severity of the injury you have sustained- think how painful a paper cut can be even though it is a relatively minor injury! Similarly, we can continue to experience pain long after the original cause has resolved, simply because the body perceives that we are still in danger; this is due to changes in the local tissues.
One common misconception is that pain is produced by injured structures- but we now know that pain, no matter where or how it is felt, is produced by the brain. Before our brain will tell us something hurts, it will first process a vast amount of information before deciding if we need to experience pain. Have you ever cut yourself and not realised until you looked down and saw blood? This is because your brain processed the injury and did not perceive it as a threat to warrant pain signals. Pain relies heavily on context and the brain’s perception of further threat- if you bump into a lamppost, it will hurt, but will it still be painful if you’re about to be run over by a train? Unlikely, because your brain will realise the incoming train is life threatening !
Pain can be both a help, and a hindrance- for example, if we put our hand on a hot stove, the acute pain we experience tells us that we are burning ourselves. However, persistent pain can be very unhelpful as often it does not indicate ongoing damage. This persistent pain is like leaving the volume knob on our radios turned up to maximum- it can block out other senses and become very disruptive in our lives.
When we are left with persistent or chronic pain, it can be hard to believe that there is no ongoing damage, it is because this persistent pain is more to do with our nervous system’s interpretation of the information it is receiving. If you were asked to do the same task all day every day, it wouldn’t take long for you to become very good at it, performing the task quicker and more efficiently each time- the body can do exactly the same. It can become very good at sending pain signals, and can actually adapt so that it sends these signals more frequently. The body can then become so sensitive that it misinterprets normal messages (such as light touch) and responds to them as if they were dangerous. We call this process “sensitization”.
What happens when our nervous system becomes sensitized?
When we perform recurrence activities they become familiar to us, and we become very good at doing them efficiently. Now try to imagine if these activities were painful to perform. If we perform these painful movements for long enough, the brain will associate the connection between those movements and pain, to the point that even preparing, or thinking about a movement can cause pain. This can be very confusing and worrying if we do not understand why this is happening.
Deep, unexplained pain can often cause more worry and anxiety simply because we cannot see what is happening, nor can we sometimes understand why it is happening. As the definition of pain says, it is both a physical AND an emotional experience- the two go hand in hand.
Have you ever noticed your back pain gets worse when you are stressed at work, or not sleeping well? Have you ever noticed your back pain gets better when you’re on holiday, relaxing in the sunshine? There is a vicious cycle that exists between pain and anxiety, which can be hard to break.
What we focus on as practitioners is addressing the factors that have led to us feeling pain. These factors can be our overall physical wellbeing, social environment, health beliefs, mental health, and social environment. We aim to progressively increase your activity and work to restore your confidence in movement as these will all help to reduce your pain levels, and help break that vicious pain cycle and turn it into a positive experience whereby more movement and confidence means less pain.
So how do I help myself?
If we learn to view pain as a motivator to encouraging us to help our bodies, we can start to work with it to get ourselves better.
Exercise. Implementing strategies to encourage more physical activity will help your body release feel-good chemicals (endorphins) which will make us feel better, blood flow to the brain increases and so our ability to function and concentrate improves, muscle strength and endurance will improve. Remember, as you start to become more physically active, you are likely to continue to experience some pain- however, hurt does not equal harm. With practice, and focus, normal movement will return and your pain levels will decrease.
Set yourself realistic goals. As humans we often set ourselves up for failure by setting unattainable targets (New Year’s Resolutions being a prime example), and so when we do fail, we lose the motivation to try again. Set yourself an attainable target, such as being able to walk the children to school and back within three months, or being able to hoover the lounge without sitting down. Competing in your very first triathlon in a months’ time is NOT an achievable target for everyone.
Take charge of your pain. Learn more about it, read around the subject, understand your condition. By increasing your understanding and addressing your thoughts and feelings about pain, you can actually affect your own pain levels by giving yourself more control over your pain. No health professional can take your pain away from you, you must take control. There are a number of resources available to help you learn more:
What is your coping strategy? You might think that the sympathy offered to you by friends and family is helpful, but we actually know that those with a more attentive, concerned spouse/partner will report higher levels of pain.
If you have been prescribed help, this must make sense to you and increase your understanding of your problem. If something does not make sense to you, ask, we are here to help. A good clinician will help you master your situation but you must feed back to them if you do not understand what they say.
Research shows that if you have a good understanding of chronic pain, you can feel more in control, make better decisions in your self-management of pain, and experience less pain as a result. Taking simple steps to increase your understanding of pain, such as reading and understanding this blog post, means you are already making a positive step to addressing and taking charge of your pain.
Back injury is the number one cause of days off work in the UK, and so injury prevention and rapid return to work of injured workers is a major focus of industries throughout the world. The burden of low back pain is huge, both financially for companies, and emotionally for workers. Reducing injury at work is crucial, for both employee and employer.
Many companies try and counterract this by paying for employees to take manual lifting courses, teaching us to “bend through the knees and hip, not the back.” Unfortunately, this conventional method of lifting isn’t always possible, or appropriate. Objects have to be lifted from the floor, from parts bins, from above- any number of possibilities, and so this conventional lift won’t help avoid injury in these situations.
The thought process behind a conventional lift is that it reduces physiological load (the amount of stress put on your joints and muscles) and is more energy efficient, however the validity of this depends on a number of different factors, such as the size, weight, and density of the object, coupled with where we are moving it from and to, over which terrain, and how many times we have to repeat the lift. Squatting repeatedly throughout the day is physically tiring, and we know that many workers end up stooping to lift objects as they tire throughout the day.
If there is no one perfect lift, how do we help avoid injury?
Remove the stressors that are causing or aggravating the injury
Enhance the activities that build healthy supportive tissues
Injuries don’t often occur as the result of one major event- often because minor injuries accumulate over time, amounting to pain and problems when eventually the structures are no longer able to cope with what is being asked of them. It is therefore more important to address the cumulative causes of the injury in order to prevent reoccurrence.
You may think that injuries are more common in those with physical jobs, however injuries are just as prevalent in those who have sedentary jobs. Gagnon (2003) studied “expert lifters” and concluded that their personal body movements, as well as their individual lifting strategies, were key to their avoidance of injury- in fact some evidence exists to suggest that our personal spine movements (how we naturally move our backs) can influence whether or not we will become injured.
Olympic weightlifters often provide the best example of lifting technique, as they have recognised the importance of avoiding lumbar flexion (bending from the lower back) to prevent injury. We therefore need to stop emphasising the importance of stooping or squatting to lift, and instead work on placing the load closer to the body to help reduce forces on our joints, and avoiding full flexion of our lumbar spines when lifting. This avoidance of full flexion is really the key element in lifting.
So what other lifting techniques could be used?
Here’s two alternatives for the conventional technique and when they could be used.
When to use: Great for picking up light objects out of deep bins/containers or picking up small objects off the floor
1- Place one hand on a stable surface next to the object to be lifted- this is to help stabilise your upper body during the lift.
2- Keeping your back straight, lean forward, allowing the leg opposite the stabilising hand to swing out straight behind you as you lean down. This will act as a counterbalance to the weight of your body.
3- Prepare for the lift: Look forward, and begin to push down on the stable surface with your hand as you lower your leg to the floor. Focus on keeping your spine straight.
Tips: Good for people with knee problems.
When to use: Good for heavy objects with uneven weight distribution (such as sacks of food)
1- Put one foot next to the object, keep your spine straight, push your buttocks out and lower yourself down to the floor, keeping one knee bent up, one knee on the floor.
2- Position the object close to the knee on the ground.
3- Slide the object from the ground on to the mid-thigh of the knee on the ground.
4- Keeping your spine straight, lift the object on to the opposite thigh.
5- Palms upwards, put both forearms under the object and hug it into your chest.
6- Prepare for the lift: Extend your legs with your back straight, pushing your buttocks out, keeping the load held close to your body.
Tips: This is a good lift for people who may not have great arm strength.