Help Injuries Heal Faster by Taking a Whole Body Health Approach
This article about whole body health was written by Dr. Marla Ranieri
Imagine that you, or one of your family members just fell and injured an ankle or underwent an orthopedic surgical procedure.
What is your first response on how to heal as quickly as possible?
For many years, we’ve been taught to follow the recipe of RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Learning this from a young age is common, beginning in our school’s physical education classes. This method helps provide guidance on what can be done immediately to help facilitate the healing process. While RICE is considered to be one important part of the recovery process, if you want to speed up healing and get back to your active lifestyle as quickly as possible there are many other interventions to consider adding to the RICE protocol.
We propose adding 3 more letters to the RICE protocol. What are they? RICE + PNM; Physical Therapy, Nutrition, and Mental Health.
In addition to dealing with the injury immediately as a way to assess the state of our bodies, you also need to consider taking a whole body approach to getting better. This includes what comes next for long term physical recovery. This recovery comes in the form of physical therapy and utilizing good nutrition practices to help strengthen and nourish yourself. It also includes mental health services to nourish and strengthen your mind for recovery.
Getting healthy and recovering from injuries and surgical procedures isn’t just about focusing on one area. The more you work to improve yourself in all areas, the better. This article will focus on three specific areas of recovery and health improvement: physical therapy practices, nutrition, and mental health services.
A Focus on Nutrition Will Improve Whole Body Health
New studies are always showing just how critical nutrition is to the healing and recovery process. During and after experiencing trauma, such as injury or surgery, the body’s nutritional needs increase quite significantly. Don’t overlook this. Some of the common changes include:
- The body enters a higher metabolic state and requires more energy to function
- Trauma and lack of limb use leads to muscle atrophy, which prolongs injury recovery
- The immune system weakens due to stress and shock
- Risk of wound infection increases
- Persistent inflammation (numbness in hands, lower back pain, neck pain) delays the return of function to various areas of the body
- Trauma and physiological stress lead to increased fatigue,which can lead to lack of motivation
To put it simply, during this time, your body is working very hard to repair tissue. Redirecting energy and resources to get the job done is imperative.
The more serious the trauma, the harder the body has to work – and the more nutritional support it needs.
Nutritional deficiencies impede the natural progression of healing. This includes elevated risk of infection and longer recovery periods. A patient that is nutritionally optimized heals better, faster, and has better long-term outcomes in most circumstances. A patient that is not nutritionally optimized is likely to heal more slowly. They may also have more long-term complications that could have been avoided by someone who follows a good nutrition regimen.
Our Diet and Nutritional Deficiencies Can Impact Healing
Unfortunately, most Americans are overfed and undernourished. This means that most Americans are not at optimal nutritional status to prevent complications post-trauma.
It is wrongly believed that proper nourishment simply means eating plenty of food. But it’s possible to be full and still be malnourished because your diet is lacking in important nutrients, even though it’s not lacking in portion size.
Hospital studies show that as many as 50% of patients are undernourished or malnourished. These patients face greater complications than properly nourished patients, including:
- longer hospital stays
- greater risk of infection during injury recovery
- increased mortality
One study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, surveyed 16,000 individuals. Results show that many are not meeting the minimum recommended thresholds for micronutrient intake (see chart below):
Source: Journal of Nutrition
Targeted nutrients can actually enhance both the quality of recovery and the time needed to do so.
Put simply, better nutrition = better healing.
For example, in previous multiple randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials, results show that the healing and recovery for joint replacement patients can be enhanced when they take a specific blend of essential amino acids before and after surgery. A nutritional intervention helps preserve muscle volume that is commonly lost. It also returns muscle to function faster and also reduces postoperative inflammation.
Physical therapists and doctors recommend obtaining these nutrients from your regular diet. However, since many people have difficulty doing so, there are supplements, such as MEND, that one can take to provide all the nutrients essential to healing. With the addition of proper nutrients, patients experience less muscle atrophy. They also perform better on functional tests than patients taking a placebo. Better nutrition = better healing, and that’s something that cannot be disputed.
You’re about to have surgery, what should you do?
If you’re going to have surgery, you’ll need to do prehab and get your body ready.
Surgery (even minor) often takes a major toll on a person. It dramatically increases your body’s nutritional needs at the same time. You’ll want to increase your intake of key nutrients that will improve your readiness for surgery. This can mean increasing overall consumption. This is not the time to be watching your waistline or doing intermittent fasting. Fasting can lead to difficulty and deficiencies for your body in a time when it needs to prepare for something difficult. It would be like going into a marathon without any prior preparation.
Mental Health Plays an Important Part in Whole Body Healing, Too
Another important recommendation from medical professionals to patients is that positive thinking can go a long way toward helping them reach their goals.
This is true for people that are both recovering from an illness or strengthening after surgery or other types of procedures. For many, it helps immensely. The way that people think about their health doesn’t just alter the approach that they take toward making changes. It also sends proper signals to the injured body part which facilitates healing. Staying positive can be very difficult while going through health issues, but it is possible if you remember a few key points.
Positive thinking puts you in a better state of mind to approach what comes your way.
It’s normal to have concerns and fears about your health. If you expect things to work and to change, they are more likely to. This isn’t because you can change outcomes simply through the power of thought. Instead, it has to do with believing something to be true and focusing on making it happen. Rather than going into treatment thinking that it won’t be effective, or approaching a new diet and assuming that you won’t lose weight or feel any better, think about what can happen if it does.
It will take some getting used to, and some hard work, but changing your mindset is essential to whole body health improvements.
Many people that have health and body issues often forget that there is more to life than their current situation. No one wants to experience a setback or a decline in their health. For many people that go through illnesses or need injury recovery time in order to get back to their normal, it’s important to remember that the recovery period is temporary.
Some suggested exercises to help people clear their minds and regain focus include the following.
- Keeping a journal of positive things that happen and goals reached
- Starting a list of things that you’re thankful for
- Taking time out for the things you enjoy
- Remembering to find joy in life
Even if things are small or seem insignificant, they shouldn’t be overlooked. One moment can help people refocus and motivate them to work toward their next goal.
Focus on the little things in life. Don’t overlook small victories. This might mean taking the time to appreciate the ability to walk a longer distance or easily climb stairs after surgery. It also means regaining strength as the result of a change in diet. Victory might also be something like getting the ‘all clear’ to return to work from your doctor or getting praise from a physical therapy professional.
It might not seem like much at the time, but you should all be ready to celebrate – at least a little bit – whenever you accomplish something.
Mental health and physical health go hand in hand – so don’t hesitate to reach out. Doctors, physical therapists, and even friends and family (or other people that have experienced the same illnesses and injuries) can provide input as to what patients like you can do to change your approach – or even to begin the healing process. One tip? Don’t make large changes to routine or implement a new diet or exercise plan without approval from a professional. However, knowing that you’ve got the ability to reach out when and if you need to is a recipe for future success.
While recovering from an injury try adding positive thinking to your “recovery plan”. If it is very difficult to do on your own, then consider reaching out to a psychologist that can help set you on the right track.
Physical Therapy: The Final Aspect of Whole Body Health
Finally, physical therapy is a must-have addition to any injury recovery plan!
You should begin physical therap as soon as the injury happens or prior to the date of surgery if possible. Many people don’t realize it, but there are actually three different types of physical therapy available to patients like you.
The most common type of physical therapy that is utilized is the kind that comes as a result of having a procedure done.This is called post-op physical therapy. There is also physical therapy that occurs after incurring an injury. If healthy enough, a patient should start physical therapy right away as soon as the injury occurs. Finally, there are also “pre-op” physical therapy sessions. These sessions help patients make changes prior to their scheduled surgical procedures.
Pre-Op Physical Therapy Will Prepare Patients for the Next Steps
The first thing to understand is that this type of physical therapy is not going to be as extensive or lengthy as post-op physical therapy sessions. Instead, the injury recovery focus on these sessions is on preparing patients to deal with changes that they need to make following their upcoming procedures. These pre-op sessions are always with a trained and competent physical therapy professional, and they are useful for many reasons. Some of the topics covered in these pre-op sessions include:
- Learning the exercises and movements that will be useful to patients throughout their injury recovery. This decreases the “surprise” that patients will feel when they begin their post-op sessions. It also gives patients an understanding that recovery always requires hard work.
- Any medical professional will tell you that the stronger and more fit a patient is, the easier the recovery will be. This isn’t because the body simply bounces back. When a surgical procedure requires the immobilization of or limiting the use of an area for a long period of time, starting out strong decreases the amount of weakness and deterioration experienced. This is especially important for areas like the knees, hips, lower back and shoulders. In these areas, range of motion (ROM) comes into play often.
- These sessions can also be useful for educating patients. This helps them to understand what is going to happen to them before, during, and after a procedure. The more a person knows about what’s to come, the better prepared they will be going through it.
These pre-op physical therapy sessions are a great chance for patients to ask questions, get information, and change the way they think about their upcoming surgery and recovery.
Post Injury Physical Therapy Sessions Are Where the Real Work Begins
You cannot predict many injuries that result in the need for physical therapy sessions. It may take a visit or two in order to find the correct recovery plan for a specific patient’s needs.
While surgical patients aren’t the only ones that need physical therapy, they do commonly seek out these services. After scheduling surgery or other procedures, patients will select a physical therapy clinic and team. If this happens before even having it done, post-procedure planning time decreases a great deal. Post-op physical therapy sessions only start after patients are cleared by their medical team. With a solid plan in place, improvements will be seen much more quickly.
After the surgery or if an injury does not require surgery, the focus switches to regaining mobility, strength, and function.
This doesn’t all happen at once. Patients need to work with their therapy professionals in order to reach their desired goals. With each passing session, patients see progress. Typically, this leads to an improved mood. Physical therapy in this time frame for patients ties in with the other two aspects of whole body health in very important ways.
For example, many hand injuries don’t require surgery. Symptoms like numbness, tingling, or hand pain may resolve with prolonged physical therapy. Another injury that (in many cases) simply needs time? Whiplash or a concussion. Rehabilitation and physical therapy help. However, some injuries are mild enough that they aren’t necessary long term.
First, following a good dietary plan and properly nourishing the body will help make sessions more successful. A good diet promotes better sleep, increased muscle healing, and provides energy for patients after difficult sessions. When considering mental health, having good sessions promotes positive thinking, the ability for patients to see and feel improvement, and to remain focused on the goals that they have yet to reach.
Feeling challenged is something that all patients experience as a result of these physical therapy sessions. It doesn’t matter what the schedule is, or how intense sessions are. This is a normal part of the process. The great thing about physical therapy is that there is a way to individualize the treatment plans. This ensures that each patient participates in a way that benefits them. As patients make progress, the physical therapy professional can adjust things accordingly. This provides new challenges and shifts the focus to another area that needs it.
One more thing to remember? Throughout the course of the sessions, the physical therapist always has the patient’s end goals in mind.
This means that even when things seem difficult or unnecessary, following the instructions and direction that a therapist provides is imperative.
Not only will this potentially shorten the healing process, but it keeps things moving forward, instead of potentially setting patients back. Setbacks may lead to struggles in other areas of life, too. Injury recovery shouldn’t be more difficult than it has to be.
It is possible for patients to focus on one of the three areas discussed at a time, but this isn’t always the best choice.
It may not be easy to combine these things. However, with the help and guidance of physical therapy and or mental health professionals along with a capable medical team, doing more than one at a time isn’t just recommended. It hasproven to be much more beneficial for patients of all types when it comes to whole body health.
Taking it slow is OK. Having a specific focus is OK. Trying to do everything on your own is not OK.
In some cases, a medical team will recommend patients seek out physical therapy before moving forward – even when this doesn’t seem the obvious choice. It is important to know that these options are all available to you. Another benefit? In many places, you do not require a prescription from your medical doctor to start your physical therapy sessions.
You can find and schedule your physical therapy appointment with a click of a button by using the BetterPT mobile app or BetterPT clinic locator tool. Starting physical therapy sooner than later will give you an advantage when trying to speed up your recovery and increase your whole body health. Don’t hesitate – schedule an appointment today!
Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology in 2005 and went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. She has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. Marla continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.