I always tell inquiring young girls and young boys whom I encounter that if there were one thing that I wished I had done a better job of when I was a young athlete, it would be taking better care of my body and being a little more proactive about fostering my health. I’m glad I now know and understand, and I am happy to share my thoughts on how I believe every athlete, no matter their age, should approach healing from injury, rehab/prehab. Follow along through this series in Body & Soul on ICE, beginning with the roughest stage: Healing From Injury.
I have had 8 total surgeries during my career as an athlete: five on both my knees (lateral and medial meniscus), two on both of my feet (plantar fasciitis), and one on my left achilles tendon. Unfortunately, I know all too well how to heal from injury, but I am here to provide you with great news: being injured doesn't mean that you can't come back stronger! This post is to provide you with some helpful tips on how to recover, both mentally and physically, from any injury, no matter how big or small.
The R.I.C.E. is Right
By now, you may or may not have heard of the RICE method, but this is the only way you should think about your recovery period, whenever you suffer through an injury, big or small. Haven't heard of "RICE"? I will explain each following component and discuss why the rice method is so complete. When you are injured, this must become your new way of life. And always remember, the closer relationship you foster with these four ideas, the greater your results will be. Trust me, I've done the research for this:
Rest. This simple idea often becomes a stumbling block to those who are not aware of what this means, and what it doesn't mean. This will also be a major challenge to those who are struggling to let go of the thought of no activity, for either a short or vast amount of time, for multiple reasons--emotional, psychological or even social. For a lot of people, when told to rest, it makes them feel as though they are being inadequate in some way because of the lack of their activity and participation with other members. This can especially be felt in team sports, and will probably be the toughest down side to being injured.
A good way to understand the value of resting is to first understand what rest does and doesn't mean. Then you will be able to appreciate it's various degrees of benefits. In my opinion, resting is really about sacrificing a short amount of time, in order to most effectively and properly heal from injury. Of course the amount of vital rest you need is going to be dependent upon the nature of the injury.
What rest means:
Taking a full break from activity for an extended period of time.
Avoiding bearing too much weight on the injured body part (i.e. knee, foot, shoulder, wrist).
Completely staying off of your feet for a majority of the day.
Although this can be viewed as a passive detail, it actually requires a lot of discipline to properly execute a new resting habit/pattern. You have to be patiently dedicated to the slow process of successful healing and know that in order to recover 100% from the trauma it has suffered, your body must be completely rested.
What rest doesn't mean:
Resting doesn't mean you are lazy/being lazy. So many times athletes feel the pressure to "play through" pain or fight the need to sit out in order to appear as though they are somehow tougher or stronger than they may feel. There is also a tremendous guilt that is naturally associated with sitting out and resting your body after suffering an injury. Especially when watching your teammates play and compete. Let go of that guilt, and resist the urge to not rest; try your best to see the long term vs. the short term of the situation. Remember: you are fighting against your own body when you don't properly rest it first.
Resting doesn't mean you're not important to the team. Your injury may temporarily shift your focus off the court or field of play, but that doesn't change the character that you bring to the team outside of your body and physical talent. Figure out other ways to contribute while you are resting and you will discover the optimal value you bring to a team, while also rediscovering your role(s) on the team from an inside-outside perspective.
Conversely, resting doesn't mean you're special or more important than anyone on the team. Always understand why you are sitting out and the purpose behind it--to return to activity healthy, and hopefully more effective than you were before. If you are a highly valuable member of the team it is important that you do not exploit this part of the process. You are only hurting yourself first, and your team second when you take advantage of the recovery process.
Physical rest doesn't mean that you cannot be actively engaged mentally. Meaning, you can still be engaged with practices, games, and what is going on with the team while sitting/resting on sidelines. It is up to you to be ready to get back into the game when your body has finally recovered, so stay plugged into the system mentally while you rest, and you will find it much easier to assimilate once you return.
No matter the injury, ice is a remedy that you can immediately depend on to aid and assist you through the recovery process. It is especially helpful for shorter term injuries (jammed fingers, ankle sprains*), as well as a preventative remedy for the areas of your body that are highly vulnerable (knees, shoulders).
If you touch directly on the part of your body where the injury occurred, you can feel the warmth from the injury due to the blood that is rushing to that area in order to help it heal. Because it has suffered trauma, your body naturally responds, which is what mainly causes the increased blood flow and swelling. The ice will help to relieve the pain and prevent swelling by instantly decreasing blood flow to the area.
It is important that you are consistent with this; these two habits should be foundational practices on your road to recovery and return to action. When you combine ice treatment with sufficient rest, not only will your body begin its recovery faster, but you will also feel better as a result of experiencing less pain and discomfort.
For those who have access to ice baths and can endure/tolerate the low temperatures, it is recommended that you use them as often as you can, preferably daily. (This is also something that could and should be utilized by those who are not dealing with injuries, as it best helps to preserve the health of your body.) Through the ice cold conditions your body will thank you, even as you suffer through the chilling pain.
*For quicker recovery from ankle sprains, I highly recommend submerging your foot into an ice bucket for 10-15 minutes, as often as you can tolerate.
Compression is another aid that helps to assist with pain and swelling that one experiences with various injuries. Compression especially helps assist in quickly removing the swelling from an area (ankle, knees). Ways to compress:
- Wear a compression sleeve, or ace bandage wrap
- Compression pants/tights
- Kinesiology tape
It is important that you don't wrap the ace bandages too tightly, as that will cause more swelling under the affected area. Try to keep the compression on as often as you can tolerate.
You want to try to elevate the injured part of your body above your heart as often as you can while you are resting. The idea here is that the blood flow will better circulate and faster assist with the recovery process by minimizing the swelling. For the best results, ice while also elevating. Additionally, to reap more benefits, you can elevate at night while in bed. For 15-20 minutes, lay on your back while placing your feet against the headboard or wall.
Rehab is where the path to recovery eventually brings you, after you have first begun to heal from the initial trauma of injury. The RICE method both prepares you for the next stages of rehab, as well as guide and assist you as you continue to do prehab exercises well after you are back in action playing again. It is important that you understand you are in charge of your own health, and the direction your mind initially decides to take is the path that is set before you in the recovery process. As we continue to go through the many stages of healing, consistently keep the RICE approach as your foundation.
The greatest piece of advice that I could give you is to listen to your own body! An injury is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong, and only you can hear what your body is communicating to you. The more information you can gather about a particular injury, the better. Stay connected with Body & Soul on ICE to learn how to best approach the rehab/prehab process and more.
Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach