Injured and recovering with P.R.I.C.E

I don’t know whether it’s been the cold weather over winter or maybe the increase in exercise for the start of 2012, but there seems to be a lot of people around me that are getting injured(including myself!). Not only are there a lot of injuries at the moment, many of them seem to be injuries to the spine or pelvis. So I decided to write a blog about injuries, prevention and using the P.R.I.C.E protocol for the recovery process.

I’m using the back as an example as there are so many people with back issues at the moment and an osteopath once said to me “It’s not about ‘IF’ you get a back injury; it’s ‘WHEN’ you get a back injury!”. What he went on to say was that the spine is so complex and allows so many different movements, that without the correct posture all the time(which lets face it, doesn’t happen often enough!) it’s only a matter of time before wear and tear takes its toll and a back injury occurs. Many people lift heavy objects for a living and even those that don’t, still lift heavy things around the house from time to time, but are we lifting with the correct posture? Are we bending through the knees and not the back, letting the legs take the strain? The answer is…..generally no!!!

Many people don’t know the correct technique and those that do, rarely use it until it’s too late. That is why so many people suffer from slipped discs(also known as prolapsed/herniated discs) which can be very painful. I have added a photo of an MRI scan taken about 8 years ago of my spine, after an accident during a football match that I hobbled away from with a broken arm and two prolapsed discs. In the photo I am pointing at the two discs that have degenerative changes which can be seen by the lack of white in them compared to the rest and if you look closely, you will see the two discs protruding from the back of the spine at the curve. This caused a lot of pain down my sciatic nerve at the time and not the kind of pain that anyone would like to experience.

I do a lot of lifting in my job and even with the right technique/posture, if I don’t look after my back and concentrate on strengthening it, I occasionally get lower back pain. So if that can happen to a personal trainer, what about the people who aren’t generally as fit or strong as a personal trainer? How do they prevent this kind of thing from happening?

There are a number of ways in which we can help ourselves to prevent injuries happening like this. Unfortunately mine happened in a freak accident. I wasn’t in control of the situation and it wasn’t a direct injury from bad posture or technique at the time, but a lot of people are in control of it and neglect to do the right things. Injuries of other areas of the body can also be prevented with a little common sense and again, the right posture or technique can be a crucial part of it.

Starting with the posture, we are all guilty of slouching into comfy sofas or having the wrong posture when sitting at a desk or even when driving a car. All of these examples are things we can control.

Thinking about the way we sit and trying to keep a neutral spine like the second picture, can help prevent back pain and disc problems. Another area in which we can all improve, is the way we pick up heavy objects……

 

Bending through the knees and picking up heavy objects correctly can go a long way to preventing back problems. By bending through the back instead of the knees, this puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on the lower back which will eventually lead to an injury and lower back pain. Both of these examples are things that can be controlled.

Unfortunately not everything in life can be controlled and therefore injuries will happen; that is inevitable, especially if you are an active person and involved in sport. Knowing what to do once you’ve got injured is the next step on the road to recovery, so here is the P.R.I.C.E protocol for you to follow…..

Protection/Prevention: Protecting yourself against further injury or preventing further damage to an area that is already injured is the first step. Strapping an injured area or using padding to protect the area is a good place to start.

Rest: Resting an injury gives it time to heal. Don’t underestimate how important it is to rest for the body to repair properly.

Ice: Icing an injury helps to reduce swelling and pain but be careful not to ice for more than 10-15 minutes maximum or it can have the opposite effect. Also, make sure ice isn’t applied directly to the skin or an ice burn can occur; keep a thin layer between the ice and skin. Ice should be applied for at least the first 72 hours after the initial injury and every 2 hours when possible.

Compression: Compressing the injured area can prevent swelling and reduce swelling that has already occurred. It also helps with the first step(protection/prevention).

Elevation: Elevating the injured area above the level of the heart(if possible) reduces the amount of blood which flows to the area and therefore prevents more swelling. It also helps the lymphatic system flush the swelling away with the aid of gravity.

By following the P.R.I.C.E protocol, it can make recovery time much less than without the knowledge of what you are supposed to do. This protocol can be followed for any injury, not just the back that I have used as an example in this blog.

I hope this blog has been useful in teaching you what to do in the event that an injury has occurred. I also hope that by seeing a real MRI scan and hearing how easy it is to injure your body just from incorrect posture, that you think about your posture more each day and where possible you use the correct techniques to hopefully prevent an injury that is very common and one that I’m seeing a lot of lately.

Thanks for reading and good luck in taking good care of your body!

Listening to your Body

Learning about exercise, fitness and what to do to reach your goals is a never-ending learning curve. Everyone has an opinion and there are many that are controversial. It can be quite confusing hearing lots of opinions and advice from different people and even when we know our stuff, we all still make mistakes. I’ve recently made a big mistake at which I should have known better and it’s important we learn from these mistakes. We can listen to as much advice as possible from people who know more than us, but the most important thing, is to listen to our bodies when it comes to how we feel when training. Sometimes we can get complacent after exercising regularly and that can be a dangerous place to be, as I found out recently. When we commit to exercise we all like to push it hard and see results, but sometimes that’s not the way to go. The rest and recovery is just as important and sometimes more important than the actual exercise. What none of us want is to burn out and end up injured!

I was recently running on my usual 10 mile route and I could feel my right calf was tight. I’d been training hard for a couple of weeks before hand and wanted to keep pushing myself. My body was trying to tell me that it was time to stop and recover but I didn’t listen. When I felt my calf tightening I should have cut my run short, gone home and rested for a few days to let my body recover, but I didn’t and thought I could just get through until the end. I took my body one step too far and after a few quick successive sharp pains I felt a ‘ping’ and the damage was done, I had pulled my calf. I have pushed my body to the limit so many times before that I got complacent about my fitness level and ignored the signs. We all have a limit, we just need to know when to stop!

When we exercise and continuously push our bodies to the limit, we actually tear tiny muscle fibres. These muscle fibres are so small and there are so many of them that it’s not noticeable, but over time they rebuild and cause scar tissue, what most know as knots in the muscle. If we don’t give our body time to repair and recover, these small tears can be far worse and that is when more serious injuries occur. Muscle pulls/strains are common because of many reasons but they can be prevented with a little common sense and just by listening to our bodies and having a rest when we feel we need one!

Here are some signs that might help you prevent an over usage injury………

  • Dehydration –  The body is made up of 70% water. If the body gets dehydrated, normal functions will suffer including muscle performance. Generally, if you feel thirsty or you have a dry mouth, the damage is already done, you are already dehydrated. If you feel this way, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and you feel ready to exercise before trying to push yourself. Don’t ignore it and try to exercise as dehydration can be very serious.
  • Tiredness –  When you are tired mentally or physically, the reaction times slow down and concentration levels drop. If you don’t concentrate on a run, bike ride or many other activities, or you just react slower than normal, it may be the difference between putting your foot in a pot hole or seeing it earlier, dodging it and avoiding an ankle injury. If you feel tired, rest and make sure you have recovered fully before exercising again.
  • Tightness –  If you are contemplating a weights or CV session but a certain muscle or area feels tight, it’s tight for a reason. Don’t push through it and hope it eases off, as it can be far worse like a muscle pull, such as the one I’ve experienced through doing exactly this! Be sensible, let the muscle recover and make sure it is fully warmed up, stretched and feeling ready to exercise before you exercise again.
  • Illness –  If you are recovering from an illness, make sure you have recovered fully before trying to exercise. Your body’s immune system is down and exercising at this point can increase the risk of injury or further illness. There are some minor illnesses like a basic headache that exercising can actually help with. It helps to dilate the blood vessels in the body so the blood moves more freely with less pressure in the head, hence easing a headache, but if the body has an infection or virus, bacteria can thrive when the body temperature is raised therefore prolonging the illness. I suggest you take the extra few days to recover and make sure you are on top form to be able to push yourself hard, when you get back to feeling 100% again.

The key to preventing injuries is to be smart. If you’re in any doubt and you just don’t feel quite right, don’t risk it. That doesn’t mean don’t exercise just because you can’t be bothered, but be sure you are fit and able enough to perform to a good intensity and get the best out of whatever exercise it is you have chosen.

So, next time you want to exercise, let your body speak to you AND make sure you listen! Enjoy your workout : )