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10 Natural Ways To Prevent Injuries

Managing and preventing injuries is just as important as the exercise itself, so here are 10 natural ways to keep injuries at bay. Exercise is good for you.There are not many statements you make in this world that will gain unanimous support, but that is one of them; your mental and physical health improve when you exercise. Australian government guidelines state that adults need 1.5 to 2.5 hours per week of moderate intensity exercise. Exercise is good; we know how much we need, so why aren’t we doing it?

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that only 44 per cent of Australians meet the recommended activity guidelines. What is causing the gap between knowledge and action when it comes to exercise? Finding time is an issue, but that really comes down to motivation, and that really comes down to having a look at yourself in the mirror, on so many levels. Aside from this, a major roadblock to exercising is injury. You know the scenario.

You’ve decided you need to do more exercise. You haven’t been on the tennis court for a few years but you still have that racquet and the embarrassingly expensive shoes. Inspired by watching the latest Grand Slam you join a social tennis group. Week one: you discover your backhand is still sweet, your volleys are passable and your serve is functional. Week two: your body was sore last week but that felt good, so buoyed by your initial efforts you go a little harder this week, and just as you lunge for a wide forehand your calf muscle decides that that is a bridge too far and decides to tear. You face four to six weeks of recovery, and each time you go back to starting your exercise regime again the mountain becomes a little steeper, and a little less inviting.

Even if you are already well established in your exercise routine, the rigours of constant exercise can put stress on your body, resulting in wear and tear injuries. If you want to exercise you have the face the reality that injuries are a part of the equation and you need to deal with them.

Preventing injuries is the ideal, but if injuries do occur you want to support your body as best you can through the healing process to get you back on the road again as soon as is right for your body. Taking a natural holistic approach to injury management and preventing injuries is not only effective and gentle but it can be downright pleasurable as well. So here are 10 ways that you can use to help prevent and heal injuries.

Antioxidants

Antioxidant vitamins like A, C, E, and bioflavonoids as well as antioxidant minerals like zinc and selenium are an essential part of injury management. When tissue has been damaged and is repairing itself it is these antioxidant nutrients that are used in large amounts by the affected tissue to do the repairs, so when an injury occurs you will have an increased need for all of these nutrients to support the extra demand. Vitamin C and zinc in particular are essential for wound healing.

Arnica

Arnica (Arnica montana) has long been used as a remedy for bruising, swelling and muscle soreness. Taken internally as a herb it can be toxic in high doses, but as a cream and taken as a homeopathic it can be an effective treatment for bruising, particularly if taken just after the incident occurs.

Bruises form when small blood vessels are damaged by an impact and begin to bleed under the skin. Some research has suggested that arnica contains anti-inflammatory substances that may repair and strengthen these blood vessels and minimise bruising. In one study, face-lift patients were randomly assigned to take 12 doses of either homeopathic arnica pills or a placebo, starting on the morning of their surgery. During their recovery, photographs were taken to chart the changes in facial bruising. Arnica patients’ bruises tended to be smaller, particularly on the first day after surgery and then one week later. They also showed a different pattern in bruise healing. Arnica patients steadily improved after the first postoperative day, whereas placebo patients tended to get worse before improving. Whether as a cream, gel or homeopathic pills, arnica should be part of your first response when bruising occurs to help your body heal.

In 2021, a study from the journal Medicines concluded that arnica cream or gel is an effective anti-inflammatory and can be used in pain management for back pain as well as general musculoskeletal pain. Arnica creams are readily available and should be a feature in your medicine cabinet if you are serious about exercise.

Cherries for preventing injuries

If your muscles are sore, then a delightful treatment might be to get stuck into some cherries or cherry juice. Researchers at the University of Vermont found that drinking a glass of cherry juice after exercising may help ease those aching muscles. In their study, subjects drank either 350ml of a blend of fresh cherry juice and apple juice or a placebo twice daily for eight days. On the fourth day, the men participated in several rounds of elbow exercises. Overall, the men experienced much less pain and retained more muscle strength after exercising when drinking the cherry juice blend than they did while drinking the placebo.

In another study, researchers at London South Bank University had trained athletes drink 30ml of cherry juice concentrate twice daily for seven days prior to and two days after an intense round of strength training. The athletes’ recovery after the cherry juice concentrate was significantly faster compared to when they drank a placebo juice. Cherries probably have this recovery-promoting effect due their high levels of antioxidant polyphenols, which give them their rich red colour.

Cherry season is summer, so you can’t get fresh cherries all year around but you will always be able to find cherry juice. If you really want to have cherry as fruit, the good news is that cherries freeze well, but you might need to buy a cherry pitter (or hone your cherry stone removing technique) as they do need to be frozen without the stones.

Comfrey

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries in creams and poultices to treat joint and muscle pain, bruises and strains. Studies have shown that comfrey extracts have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects as well as the capacity to stimulate tissue repair.

Your ankle joints are particularly prone to sprain and strain injuries because of their small size and heavy load. In one study, healthy adults with sprained ankles were randomly assigned to use either a comfrey cream or a topical anti-inflammatory medicine, diclofenac gel. Each person entered the study within six hours of being injured and began using about two grams of the cream or gel four times per day for one week. Pain level and the degree of swelling were measured upon entering the study, after four days and after six to eight days. The people using comfrey cream had significantly greater improvement in pain and swelling than those using diclofenac gel. Furthermore, those using comfrey reported faster and more complete recovery than those using diclofenac.

Epsom salts

In the late 17th century the medicinal qualities of the salts derived from the mineral waters of Epsom, England, were extolled in a paper written by Nehemiah Grew. The constituents of these salts were primarily magnesium and sulphur, and this combination was found to be a great remedy for aching muscles. Studies have shown that magnesium sulphate can be absorbed through the skin and magnesium has muscle-relaxing effects. Sulphur is believed to promote protein production in joints, which is why Epsom salts may relieve arthritis pain. Just add Epsom salts to your bath after exercise and your muscles and joints will be the better for it.

Essential oils

Essential oils offer many methods of healing and there are some that are particularly useful for soothing an exercising body. Wintergreen oil is 90 per cent methyl salicylate, which is closely related to aspirin. Since the 1800s wintergreen oil has been used in ointments to soothe pain and relieve aching muscles.

Peppermint essential oil is rich in menthol, meaning that it is anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, so it will relieve both inflamed, tired muscles and muscles that are in spasm or cramp. Peppermint also leaves a cooling, pain-relieving sensation on your skin.

Eucalyptus oil rubbed into the skin has a pain-relieving effect, and it also promotes blood flow to the area where applied hence stimulating healing of strains and sprains. Combine drops of wintergreen, peppermint and eucalyptus into a carrier oil such as almond oil or avocado oil and you will have
a soothing, effective healing lotion, especially if you find the right hands to apply it.

Ginger

Ginger has a well-deserved reputation for soothing digestion and relieving nausea, but a lot of recent interest around it has been on the ways in which it reduces inflammation in your body. For instance, ginger restricts the actions of chemicals known as leukotrienes and prostaglandins which promote inflammation. A substance named “shogaol” from ginger has additional analgesic effects as it stops the release of the pain-mediating compound “substance P”. Ginger also possesses antioxidant properties that equal vitamin C. So if inflamed muscles or joints are hampering your exercise efforts, then ginger may be your answer. You can take it in tablet or capsule form or you can make a ginger tea by cutting up fresh ginger root, putting it in a vacuum flask, filling the flask with boiling water and letting it stand for a few hours; the resultant brew is delicious and potent.

Ice baths

Professional athletes often lament having to jump into a tub of freezing water after a game, but is it an effective injury treatment and preventative?

In one study, researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport had male cyclists complete a five-day “fatigue-inducing” cycle of exercises, four times each, with nine days’ rest between each cycle. The athletes used one of four recovery strategies after each day of exercise: immersion in 15°C water for 14 minutes; immersion in 38°C water for 14 minutes; alternating between cool and hot water every minute for 14 minutes; or just 14 minutes of rest. The cyclists’ sprint and time trial performance was maintained or slightly improved with cool water immersion and contrast water therapy, but both declined with hot water dips or rest only. So for any endurance sports it does seem as though ice baths post exercise will assist recovery and help prevent muscle damage.

In another study from the journal Frontiers in Sports and Active Living ice baths were not found to benefit elite volleyball players in the short term but to have long-term beneficial effects. Depending on your tolerance for cold, ice baths might help reduce your injury incidence, but they are more likely useful as a long-term part of your exercise program.

Massage

If you are searching for a reason to justify getting a massage, here it is: therapeutic massage can speed recovery after a sports injury. One study from Ohio State University showed that this is not simply a feel-good effect from being touched by another human by using Swedish massage on animals after they had exercised. Swedish massage combines long strokes, kneading and friction techniques on muscles. Muscles in animals receiving massage had improved function, less swelling and fewer signs of inflammation than did muscles in the animals that received no massage treatment after exercise.

The massaged muscles recovered an estimated 60 per cent of their strength after the four-day trial, compared to restoration of about 14 per cent of strength in muscles that were exercised and then rested. Similarly, the massaged muscles had fewer damaged muscle fibres and virtually no sign of white blood cells, the presence of which would indicate that the body was working to repair muscle damage, when compared with the rested muscles. The massaged muscles weighed about 8 per cent less than the rested muscles, suggesting that the massage helped prevent swelling.

Preventing Injuries with Yoga

If a sore back is your problem after some vigorous exercise then yoga may well help. This was shown in a trial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Adults with lower back pain were randomly assigned to take either 12 weeks of yoga class or 12 weeks of a standard therapeutic exercise class, or to follow the advice of a self-care book. The yoga class was conducted by an experienced instructor and the class was limited to basic poses that would not put too much strain on the back. After 12 weeks, the yoga practitioners reported better back function than either of the other two groups. At their final evaluation, those practising yoga were using less than half the amount of pain medication of the other groups. The healing power of yoga for sore backs may lie in its focus on coordinating movement with the breath and focusing the mind. It may also be that yoga allowed the back pain sufferers to become more aware of their habitual movements and postures that contributed to their back problems in the first place. Whatever the mechanism, this certainly suggests that yoga can help in your injury rehabilitation and muscle protection.

Article Featured in WellBeing 205

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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