Help Injuries Heal Faster by Taking a Whole Body Health Approach
This article about whole body health was written by Dr. Marla Ranieri
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, it has been ingrained in our society to follow the recipe of “RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation.” We are generally taught this from a young age, beginning in the school’s physical education classes, and it is meant to provide guidance on what can be done immediately to help facilitate the healing process. While RICE has been 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 and to add to the RICE protocol.
We propose adding 3 more letters to the RICE protocol. 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 in the form of physical therapy, utilizing good nutrition practices to help strengthen and nourish yourself, and 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, and this shouldn’t be overlooked. 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 recovery
- The immune system is weakened due to stress and shock
- Risk of wound infection increases
- Persistent inflammation delays 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 and it is redirecting energy and resources to get the job done. 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, including elevated risk of infection and longer recovery periods. A patient that is nutritionally optimized will heal better, faster, and have better long-term outcomes in most circumstances. A patient that is not nutritionally optimized is likely to heal more slowly and may have long-term complications that could have been avoided than someone who follows a good nutrition regimen .
Our Diet and Nutritional Deficiencies Can Impact Healing
Unfortunately, most Americans are overfed and undernourished, meaning most Americans are not at optimal nutritional status to prevent complications post-trauma. As a population, it is believed, wrongly, that just because you are eating plenty of food, that you are properly nourished. 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 have shown 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
- increased mortality
One study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, studied over 16,000 individuals and found 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, it has been shown 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, returns muscle to function faster and also reduces postoperative inflammation. It is always recommended to obtain these nutrients from your regular diet, but 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 have less muscle atrophy and 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. A surgery can take a major toll on a person, and dramatically increase 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, and this can mean increasing overall consumption. This is not the time to be watching your waistline or doing intermittent fasting, since that 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 that medical professionals tell 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, and can help immensely. The way that people think about their health can not only change the approach that they take toward making changes, but will also send proper signals to the injured body part which can facilitate 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 will put you in a better state of mind to approach what comes your way. While 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. Instead of 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, but for many people that go through illnesses or need to recover 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 keeping a journal of positive things that happen and goals reached, keeping a list of things that you’re thankful for, taking time out for the things you enjoy, and remembering to find the joy in life. Even if things are small or seem insignificant, they shouldn’t be overlooked, because one moment can help people refocus and motivate them to work toward their next goal.
Focus on the little things in life. Small victories shouldn’t be overlooked. This might mean taking the time to appreciate the ability to walk a longer distance or easily climb stairs after a surgery, or regaining strength as the result of a change in diet. It can 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 isn’t something that can be overlooked – 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. While it’s not recommended to make large changes to routine or implement a new diet or exercise plan without approval from a professional, knowing that you can reach out when and if you need to should be looked at as motivation 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! Physical therapy should start as soon as the injury happens or prior to the date of surgery. 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 called post op physical therapy. There is also physical therapy that occurs after incurring an injury, a patient can start physical therapy right away as soon as the injury occurs. Finally, there are also “pre-op” physical therapy sessions that are designed to help patients make changes prior to their scheduled surgical procedure.
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 focus on these sessions will be on preparing patients to deal with changes that they will have to make following the procedures that they have. 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 recovery. This decreases the “surprise” that patients will feel when they begin their post-op sessions, and can give them a chance to get used to the idea that they will be working hard to recover.
- 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 will simply bounce back, but when a surgical procedure requires the immobilization of or limiting the use of an area for a long period of time, starting out strong will decrease the amount of weakness and deterioration experienced. This is especially important for areas like the knees, hips and shoulders, where range of motion (ROM) comes into play.
- These sessions can also be useful for education patients by helping them to understand what is going to happen to them during and after the procedure is done. The more a person knows about what they will experience, the better prepared they will be to go through it. These sessions are a great chance for patients to ask questions, get information, and change the way they think about their upcoming surgery.
Post Injury Physical Therapy Sessions Are Where the Real Work Begins
Since many injuries that result in the need for physical therapy sessions cannot be predicted, 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 a surgery or other procedure has been scheduled, a patient can select a physical therapy clinic and team before even having it done, which decreases the time spent planning or searching post-procedure. Post-op physical therapy sessions will only start after patients are cleared by their medical team, but with a solid plan in place, improvements will be seen much more quickly.
After the surgery or an injury that does not require surgery, the focus will be on regaining mobility, strength, and function. This can’t all happen at once, and patients will need to work with their therapy professionals in order to reach the goals that they desire. With each passing session, progress will be seen – which can lead to 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. First, following a good dietary plan and properly nourishing the body will help the sessions be more successful. A good diet will promote better sleep, increased muscle healing and provide energy for patients after difficult sessions. When mental health is considered, having good sessions will promote positive thinking, the ability for patients to see and feel improvement, and remain focused on the goals that they have yet to reach.
Feeling challenged is going to be something that all patients experience as a result of these physical therapy sessions, no matter how many of them are scheduled or how intensive they are, but 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 in order to ensure that each patient is participating in a way that will be beneficial to them. As progress is made, the physical therapy professional will adjust things accordingly, providing new challenges or shifting the focus to another area that needs it.
One of the most important things for patients to remember is that throughout the course of the sessions, the physical therapist will always have the patient’s end goals in mind, meaning 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 – which can lead to struggles in other areas of life, too.
While it is possible for patients to focus on one of the three areas discussed at a time, this isn’t always the best choice. It may not be easy to combine these things, but 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 is not only recommended – it’s proven 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, and that 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.
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.