The science behind injury prevention and pain management in the context of an active lifestyle is complicated. There are well over a dozen identifiable factors behind injuries and bouts of pain, ranging from trainee genetics and training history to diet, sleep, load, and fatigue management.
For newcomers and veterans in fitness alike, it can all be overwhelming. It doesn’t help that companies, coaches, and even some physical therapists personally benefit from mystifying injury prevention and pain management to sell programs and supplements that, while marginally helpful, do not do enough to address underlying factors that may play a greater role in pain management, yet wouldn’t be as lucrative.
While having a complete understanding of injury prevention would require enough information to adequately source multiple dissertations, we can help you prioritize the things that probably matter the most for enjoying long-term progress at the gym, in the ring, or on the field, with a reduced risk of injury.
The first real instance of meaningful post-workout recovery comes from qualitative and deep sleep. Improving your sleep hygiene is probably the best thing you can do for your long-term training progress, regardless of your goals or your chosen sport. Whether you want to throw the best fastball, be the best golfer, or lift the most weight, optimizing your sleep should be a priority.
It’s estimated that about 35 percent of adults in the US sleep less than seven hours a day. Furthermore, about three-fourths of people report significant daytime tiredness. There are a few ways to help work on these issues.
First, reconsider the timing for your caffeine intake. Caffeine sensitivity is entirely genetic – some people can have a cup of coffee before bed, while others might have one cup in the morning, and struggle to fall asleep later that night. If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, consider lower doses, skipping a pre-workout drink altogether, or using other ways to improve mental arousal at the gym or during work (such as music, or a cold face wash).
Second, examine the quality of your sleep. While there are many sleep monitoring products on the market today, it may be a good idea to visit a local sleep clinic and undertake a sleep study if you tend to have a hard time feeling rested when waking up. Sleep studies can give you a much better breakdown of how you sleep at night, and what you should do to improve your sleep. In some cases – especially if you are physically large, regardless of your body fat composition – sleep apneas can be an undiagnosed and significant issue affecting your overall quality of life.
Third, be consistent with your sleep habits. Set a strict time of night to go to bed, minimize your time spent awake in bed (i.e., try to get up right after waking up, and try to focus on falling asleep quickly after laying down), keep the room cool and dark at night, and cut out any screen time about an hour before bed.
Individualized and Responsive Load Management
While not necessarily a post-workout recovery technique, proper load management is crucial for injury prevention. Unless you are a complete beginner in your sport or haven’t been training for very long, it is not recommended to follow a week-to-week training program without any form of autoregulation, or one that relies on rapid linear progression. A beginner can make progress in training at a fast pace, but that pace is unrealistic in the long run – especially after the first six to twelve months.
Proper load management should focus on introducing progressive overload over multiple weeks, utilizing microcycles within macrocycles to test loads and adapt programs respectively, and featuring some form of autoregulation to help trainees push themselves (within a set limit) on days where they feel better, and take a chance to reduce training intensity on days that are worse.
To that end, please consider working with a trainer or coach specializing in your personal goals, even if only online. Finding a qualified coach can be difficult. If possible, ask around among trusted training partners or even local athletes in the sport you wish to compete or train for.
What About Ice Baths? Stretching? Massages? Foam Rolling?
The world of fitness advice will heap endless praise onto a million different post-injury rehab plans, specialized exercises, and specific injury protocols. Sometimes, these do help – stretching has a considerable body of evidence behind it to suggest that it can help reduce the likelihood of an injury, more so than foam rolling, ice baths, contrast baths, or even massages.
But there are three crucial takeaways in this article for anyone interested in continuing to improve their health and fitness through working out:
You cannot completely prevent injuries. You can only reduce the risk of an injury and recover from one at a faster or slower rate, depending on how you react to it.
Living a generally healthier lifestyle – reducing stress, eating healthily, and optimizing your sleep – will help not only reduce injury rates, but also improve your progress in training.
Load management is a key factor in injuries. Musculoskeletal injuries are complex. The factors that make up an injury range from genes and the kind of sport you are doing, to absolute loads and overall load management, fatigue management, diet, sleep, exercise selection, and much more. It’s not possible to sensibly control every single factor, and some factors – like genetics – cannot be controlled. Instead, try to focus on the things that matter most, such as properly individualized load management.
These three elements will heavily outweigh the benefits of any number of ice baths, foam rolling sessions, prehab exercises, massage therapies, chiropractic visits, or protein supplements. That is not to say that any of these things aren’t helpful – but they should be supplemental to a strong foundation consisting of healthy food, good sleep, and a sensible training plan.
When you do face a long-term sports injury, a solid and individualized pain management plan is important for helping you get back into your favorite hobby or sport. Work with specialists who respect your interests and utilize conservative methods to help reintroduce you into training, and get you back into moving again during the rehabilitative phase.
We at PMIR specialize in a number of different non-invasive modalities for reducing pain and helping clients work with physical therapists to recover from serious injuries. Learn more about our pain management plans and injury recovery treatments through our website, or give us a call today via (877) 724-6349.
Take the First Step Towards Pain-Free Living Today