Rapid Recovery

The standard recipe for injury recovery is a few weeks of rest, ice and anti-inflammatories. But there are steps you can take to minimise lost training time


Posted: 2 December 2009
by Ant Smith, Selene Yeager, Ruth Emmett, Alison Hamlett

Drugs don't work

Resist the reflex to reach for a bottle of ibuprofen to reduce swelling. "Killing pain is fine," says Andrew Pruitt, author of Andy Pruitt's Medical Guide for Cyclists, "but deflating inflammation during the initial stages of injury may actually delay healing." In fact, anti-inflammatories inhibit enzymes called prostaglandis, which promote circulation to the injured area and increase tissue permeability, so your body's repair cells can clear out the wreckage. For the first 48 hours, use paracetamol, which is purely a pain reliever, says Pruitt, "so you don't suppress the healing process." After that, anti-inflammatories are fine.

Move it

Resting doesn't mean immobilising yourself in front of the TV. Take it easy on the injured body part, but stay in motion to keep blood flowing, which will help you heal faster and maintain fitness. You could try swimming, brisk walking, aquajogging or rowing depending on your injury.

Eat to heal

You may not be training, but your body still burns about 100 per cent more calories than usual when it's trying to repair an injury. "It's important that you feed your body what it needs to mend," says Dr Liz Applegate, author of Nutrition Basics for Better Performance.  She recommends boosting your intake of protein, which builds muscles and soft tissues, to between 100g and 120g a day.  Other recovery nutrients include iron to build blood; and zinc to speed-up wound healing - both are found in lean meat, whole grains and fortified cereal. If you fall off your bike and suffer road rash, vitamins A and C help create new skin and collagen. If you broke a bone, bump up your calcium intake to 1,500mg a day.

The one-to-two rule

For each week you can't train, spend one to two weeks rebuilding your base before returning to hard training. If you were off for three weeks, it could take as many as six before you can tackle another race.

Go solo

During the first weeks back after injury, limit group training where you may be tempted to push your pace. If you long for company, go with the group for the first few miles of bike or run training, then do your own thing.

Warning signs

It's natural to feel twinges when you return to training after injury, but they should fade as you warm up. If pain keeps flaring, back off. "The single most common cause of re-injury is doing too much too soon," Pruitt says. Your body may also be vulnerable to over-training when you're coming back from injury, so respect rest and easy days.


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