Home Care For
Minor Aches And Injuries
By Catherine Nelson, LMT, CST, CKTS
Most aches and pains can be treated effectively at home. A few simple practices can help pain resolve quickly, and stop pains or injuries from becoming more serious or long-lasting problems.
These tips are also good standard practice while training to help your body recover as quickly as possible after every workout. At first, doing all of these things might feel like an enormous time commitment. However, once you get into a routine, these activities won't consume so much time and energy.
Minor Aches, Pains, and Injuries
Most of us know when something is minor and not anything to worry about. Indeed, most of us have likely had pain and small injuries over the years.
When I say "minor" I'm talking about:
Soreness after a workout
Small muscle "pulls"
If you find yourself dealing with any of these issues, the recommendations I make in this post will be very beneficial to you, and will likely resolve your problem entirely in a very short period of time.
While most of us can easily recognize when something is not a big deal, it can be a little harder to discern when a pain or problem needs to be taken more seriously, and perhaps requires more attention.
None of us want to be hurt, and we have such busy schedules that it is hugely inconvenient to stop and deal with problems like these. So we tend to push them aside, force them out of our minds, and just go about our business.
If you've ever done this, however, you know that eventually, you will have to stop and take care of it. And by then, it's a lot harder, more time consuming, and more expensive to treat.
Pain and injuries that are NOT minor:
Pain lasting longer than 24-48 hours
Changes in range of motion
Notable weakness when using the muscle or limb
Pop when moved
Burn when moved
Send shooting pains
Cause you to be unable to sleep
Change your gait, movement, or daily activity
While I respect that "tough it out" and "walk it off" approach to most things, if you're experiencing anything I've listed here, you need to be seen sooner rather than later. Our walk-in clinic is exactly designed for you and this circumstance.
Our walk-in clinic is open every Saturday. Our nurse is on site along with our massage therapist to immediately make an assessment of your injury and provide treatment.
Learn more about the walk-in clinic.
Medical massage therapy and injury rehabilitation massage therapy can be utilized to:
Quickly decrease your pain
Aid the tissue in recovery and repair
Maintain the muscle tone and range of motion in that limb and joint
Help you be more comfortable at night for a more restful night's sleep
Significantly decrease your risk of injury from compensation patterns
Markedly reduce your recover time
Help you avoid starting from the beginning when you are able to resume function/training
If this is you, don't wait. Make an appointment or visit our walk-in clinic to begin treatment right away.
On average, depending on the injury, it takes me between two and five appointments to rehab an injury to eighty percent or better. And four out of five people will be pain free after the second or third appointment. It is worth the time, energy, and money to seek treatment, because you do have a busy life and people who depend on you.
Here are the most important and most useful things you can do that will actually make a difference. These things, especially when done together, will help reduce your pain, help the body recover and repair the tissue, and speed you through the healing process.
Drink More Water
When you work out, you're causing small tears to the muscles. This damage is then repaired and your muscles build themselves back stronger to avoid being damaged again next time. When those muscles tear and rebuild, it creates lactic acid. The soreness you experience after a workout is a build up of lactic acid in the muscle tissue. That is normal.
But if you're dehydrated, the body isn't able to flush that lactic acid out of the muscles quickly, so it lingers. That's bad.
Also bad: Your body will be slow to heal itself from the last workout and be ready for the next. And finally, your muscles can't function properly during a workout if you're dehydrated. Drinking all the water your body needs is an easy fix to all these problems.
As a general guideline, plan to drink 0.5-1 ounce of water per pound you weight. At first, you should plan to keep track of your water intake each day to ensure you're hitting your target.
Understand that your activity level each day, diet, and the temperature will all cause your water requirement to fluctuate day to day. After establishing the habit of hitting your water goal regularly, you can begin watching your urine. It should be clear (or very nearly) and odorless. When you see that, you'll know you're drinking enough water.
Resource: How Much Water Do I Need? (Video)
Typically, I recommend 500-600mg of magnesium a day. Depending on your circumstances and your diet, you may need more or less. To learn more about magnesium, why your body needs it, where to get it, and why magnesium pills don't work, check out this post or my video series on YouTube.
Epsom Salt Soaks
Epsom salt soaks are effective because they're magnesium. You sit in the salt and it causes a chemical reaction to happen wherein the lactic acid is leeched out through your skin. Kind of gross, right? But also kind of cool!
As an added benefit, sitting in the heat of the bath will also help accelerate healing because it will bring and infusion of fresh blood to the area.
For optimal benefit from your soak, you will need to use more salt than you think--usually 1-2 cups for adults. You can find more information on the bag and do some simple calculations for an exact recommendation. Be sure to soak for 20-30 minutes.
Heat is a vasodilator, which means it causes your blood vessels to expand (open), and facilitates a rush of blood to the area. This is useful because fresh blood carries oxygen and nutrients, all of which are required for healing.
Heat is also useful because it will ease tight, rigid muscles providing some relief by easing movement and reducing pain.
Use heat for 10-15 minutes at a time, taking 20-30 minutes before reapplying. This can be done as often as needed during the day.
What about ice?
I always advocate for the use of heat instead of ice. Ice a a vasoconstrictor, which means it will constrict (close) your blood vessels. When this happens, blood flow is significantly reduced.
This has been the standard recommendation from the Western medicine community for decades to help with swelling, because an area with no additional blood flow won't swell.
But an area with no additional blood flor won't heal, either. Fresh, flowing blood is required for healing and recovery, which makes heat preferable almost every time.
Bonus: Create A Pump
Using ice and heat together create a flushing, or pumping, phenomenon in the area of injury, and this is incredibly useful for speeding tissue repair.
The ice will close the vessels and the heat will open them. This floods the area with new, fresh blood.
Closing and opening them in sequence creates a kind of pump that will force fresh blood through the area and hasten the removal of waste.
This technique can cause an increase in swelling, but it's temporary, and in most cases should not be considered a setback.
Start with ice. Use for 30 seconds. Switch to heat for 3 minutes. Repeat x 6. This ice/heat pump can be repeated 3-6 times per day.
Resource: Home Care for Minor Injuries (Video)
When an area is irritated, inflamed, or injured, stretching is beneficial, but needs to be done with care as to not further aggravate the injury.
When you stretch, make sure:
To go slowly and gently east to your edge (or just before)
Definitely do not bounce.
Keep breathing, and make sure your breathing is easy and even. If you find yourself holding your breath, back out of the stretch to a more comfortable degree.
Hold for 30-60 seconds. It takes this long for the muscle fibers to pull apart. If you cut it short, you'll receive no benefit.
You can repeat your stretching as often as you feel it would be helpful.
Stretching after applying heat can be beneficial, especially when things feel very stiff and movement or stretching of any kind is uncomfortable. Be careful doing this, however, because it is very easy to stretch too deeply when the tissues are warm and soft. If this happens, you can feel even more soreness or pain later, or find you've actually done more damage to the area. A good guideline is to go to the edge, just as you're beginning to feel discomfort, and then back out just a bit, and hold there.
If you're not sure what to stretch, you can easily work it out by asking these questions:
-Which activity causes pain?
-Which area is hurting?
If you have pain in the front of your upper arm when you lift a heavy bag from the floor, you might benefit from stretching the front of your arm.
Or if you have pain or soreness in the back of the upper leg, you would likely benefit from stretching the back of your legs.
With this information, think about how to make that area long. That's all stretching is. It is an elongating of a particular muscle.
In the first example, to make the front of the upper arm long, you would extend your hand so your elbow is straight. To add more to this stretch, you could lay your arm long against a wall and turn slightly away, using the wall to deepen the stretch.
In the second example, to make the back of the leg long, you would straighten the leg, either in a standing position or while seated on the floor. To deepen the stretch, you would bend your upper body toward your toes, which can also be done while standing or sitting.
You do not have to achieve some Gumby-pretzle position to benefit from a stretch. The amount of stretch each person needs to be helpful is completely unique to that person, that muscle, and that day. This is why I've emphasized here "finding your edge."
Finding your edge simply means stretching to the point just before discomfort. At the edge, you should feel a stretch, and you may even experience a "hurts so good" sensation, but it is not painful, and you could sustain the feeling for several minutes. If it's uncomfortable or painful, or requires to you hold your breath or grit your teeth, it's too deep. Back out, find a comfortable edge, and hold there instead.
Your cells need fresh vitamins, minerals, and more to function the way you need them to. If you're experiencing a lot of soreness, sluggishness, or are nursing an injury, you can accelerate your body's recovery by providing your cells what they need to do their work, and cutting out the stuff they don't need.
Magnesium is at the top of the list of essentials required by all your cells for almost all functions. For more on magnesium, visit this post or check out my series on YouTube.
Protein is also helpful while recovering from an injury, though you don't need as much as you might think. Still, a bit of extra protein (a few extra bits of meat, an extra scoop of protein powder, etc.) during that recovery phase would help provide the essential building blocks for your cells to use to rebuild.
In general, cut out sugar and eat lots of vegetables. Seriously, a lot. I don't have to tell you that sugar is no good for you. I will tell you that your cells have to dispose of or otherwise process all the sugar you eat, which means they can't get on with the task of rebuilding until that's taken care of. Cutting down on sugar will allow them the freedom they need to do the job of repair.
I also don't need to tell you vegetables are good for you. I will tell you that vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids your cells require for repair and rebuilding, and during the recovery phase, they need higher than usual amounts of those elements. Boosting your intake of vegetables will help speed you through the recovery process.
We all know sleep is important. But do you know why?
Your body can only heal and repair itself when it's asleep. And it must be true sleep, not medicated or fabricated sleep, being passed out, zoned out, or dosing. And it only happens in the deepest levels of the sleep cycle. So it has to be quality sleep.
This process is like a light switch--it's either on or it's off. There is no kind of, sort of, or in between.
Not only that, when you're tired, you're more likely to make a mistake that could result in injury, or worsen the injury you're already nursing.
Six hours of sleep is the barest minimum needed for our brains to function, and most working adults report an average of five to six hours per night. Sleep researchers agree six hours of sleep per night on an ongoing basis is not healthy.
Prioritize sleep so that you're getting seven and a half hours per night or more.
If sleep is a challenge for you, I highly recommend reading Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. It's packed with research, anatomy, and biology, but it's written in simple language that is easy to understand and follow. And it contains real life tips and habit changes that are not only super simple but really effective. I personally read this book and implemented most of the tips he recommends, and I was stunned by the results. The changes were easy, most required no purchases, and it worked. I can't believe the change I saw in my sleep.
You are in control of your own health! That's not a popular message. But it's much more satisfying to take responsibility and live a pain-free, active, healthy life than suffer through each day, missing out on the things you enjoy doing. A few small habit changes and practices can make a world of difference for you.
Remember, if you have pain or an issue that is not considered minor, make an appointment or visit our walk-in clinic and begin treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment, the cheaper and faster it is to fix.
Catherine Nelson, LMT, CST, CKTS, is a long-time massage therapist with a long and varied background in Western medicine. She specializes in CranioSacral Therapy for PTSD and anxiety, medical massage therapy for injury rehabilitation, and sports massage therapy for all phases of training and competition. She can be reached directly at Catherine@DelSolCommunityWellness.com.
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