The human body is an incredible feat. It is able to utilize the power of chemical bonds in food to power your body, sustain injuries and heal itself, and even adapt to its surroundings. All of these abilities allow the human body to live, survive, and thrive.
The process of healing is particularly interesting. When the body sustains damage it acts in a number of different ways to respond. When you imagine all of the injuries the body can sustain, it is quite astonishing that it is able to repair itself. Bone fractures, skin punctures, torn muscles, and other injuries are able to eventually heal and can seemingly disappear with proper care.
One topic in healing that is of particular interest to athletes is muscle recovery. Muscle recovery can include recovery from a workout as well as recovery from a sports injury. Both require unique approaches when trying to get the most out of your recovery. Below is a more detailed look at the differences between muscle damage associated with injury and a workout, as well as ways that you can support your body during the recovery process.
Types of muscle damage
Muscle injury is unique because there are many different subsets of injury and levels of severity. Muscle soreness, strains, and sprains are all types of muscular-related injuries. While they may seem similar, there are distinguishing features that make them unique and that require specific methods of treatment. Below is a more detailed look at the kinds of muscle damage.
Muscle soreness is the most benign kind of muscular injury. Muscle soreness is most often a result of working out or exercising. During physical exercise stress and strain are placed upon muscle fibers and results in micro-tears. These micro-tears are completely normal and are even a necessary component to the process of building muscle.
While technically classified as damage sustained to the muscle, muscle soreness from exercise is a good thing. With the micro-tears imposed on the muscle, the body responds by building more muscle and repairing the tear stronger than it was before. Over time, these microtears add up to measurable increases in muscle mass. This illustrates the importance of getting routine exercise.
A characteristic that is unique to muscle soreness is that it is often delayed in its onset. The term “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” or DOMS for short is a unique aspect to muscle damage sustained through regular exercise.
Muscle strain is another kind of muscle injury, but this kind is not one that is particularly beneficial. A muscle strain occurs when the muscle is pushed beyond its capabilities and results in the tearing of muscle fibers. Muscle soreness is similar to muscle strain, however, a strain results in much larger tears than the micro-tears associated with normal muscle soreness.
Muscle strains can have varying degrees of severity and a grading system is utilized to determine how severe the sprain is. A grade I strain consists of a few torn fibers that results in little changes in strength. A grade II strain results when more muscle fibers are torn and there is a noticeable loss in strength. A grade III is the most severe and is caused by a large tearing in the muscle and a loss of function of that muscle.
Unlike strains and muscle soreness, sprains affect both the muscle and tendon which is the tissue that connects the muscle to the bone. Tendons are fairly rigid and are what connect muscles to bones across joints.
Sprains are typically caused by the overstretching of tendons which can result in a simple stretched tendon or even a full tear. Like a strain, sprains are often graded based upon their severity. Little to no tearing is classifies as a grade I. Small amounts of tearing represent a grade II and a full tear represents a grade III.
How to help with injury recovery
Sprains and strains are quite common in sports and physical activity. In nonsevere cases, many strains and sprains can be treated at home. While they can be treated at home, it is always advised to get injuries assessed by a medical professional to ensure everything is okay.
Below is a look at the go-to methodology for treating a muscle-related injury. Knowing what to do in the event of injury is a great way to provide assistance as soon as possible which can help promote a speedier recovery.
The RICE methodology is an acronym that stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The RICE methodology is a great way to reduce inflammation.
The rest aspect of RICE signifies the need to reduce the utilization of the injured area. Complete immobilization is not typically necessary and there is evidence that active recovery can facilitate a speedier recovery. Ice represents the need to ice an injury after it occurs. The ice decreases inflammation and can provide some level of pain relief. Compression is the process of placing pressure around the site of the injury. By squeezing the injured area, it forces excess fluids from building up and reduces inflammation. The elevation aspect of RICE is the process of placing the injured area above the level of the heart. Doing so allows gravity to push excess fluids back down into the body and reduces fluid buildup around the site of the injury.
After an injury, the affected area can become quite uncomfortable or painful with movement. This can often be frustrating and can cause you to stress as you go about your daily life with aches and pains.
While pain management does not directly help speed up recovery, it can allow you to perform active recovery more easily and can reduce your stress levels associated with your pain.
There are many over-the-counter options available and a pharmacist or doctor can help you decide what will work best for you.
How to help with exercise recovery
Exercise recovery requires a different approach when compared to an injury. One change is in the methodology utilized to support the healing process. Where injury recovery utilizes RICE, muscle recovery from a workout utilizes CAM. Additionally, because muscle recovery is typically shorter-lived and more tolerable, more emphasis can be placed upon things like nutrition that take a back seat in injury care.
The CAM method to helping muscle soreness recovery includes compression, active recovery, and massage. The CAM method can work better than RICE for workout recovery because muscle soreness typically does not result in immediate discomfort as an injury does. RICE for injuries is mainly utilized as a first-line action to take when an injury occurs. After time has passed, RICE becomes replaced with other techniques that promote blood flow rather than inhibit it.
CAM for muscle recovery after strength training helps to improve blood flow to the muscles that have been subjected to micro-tears. These tears need to be repaired and increasing fluid flow across these tissues undergoing recovery helps to support them by delivering the essential tools they need for repair.
Take charge of your nutrition
Nutrition is another aspect of workout recovery that is important. As opposed to injury, people can plan for muscle fatigue as a result of working out. This allows people to plan and enables nutrition before, during, and after a workout to become a priority.
Nutrition surrounding a workout is important because it can increase performance and the recovery process. Through the utilization of nutrition, you can ensure that your muscle cells have the tools they need to efficiently repair and grow.
A great way to think of muscle recovery is to imagine it as a construction site. The more raw materials and tools a construction site have at there immediate disposal, the more efficiently it can work. If it is waiting for raw materials or tools, it will take longer for the same amount of work to get done. In this example, the raw materials represent your nutrition and the time it takes to build represents recovery.
Nutrition can also be taken a step further and you can look to support structures within your cells that may be running sub-optimally. The mitochondrion as an example is a crucial cellular component that is needed to produce usable energy for the cell. As you age it can become less efficient due to oxidative stress. MitoQ is an effective antioxidant that is tailor-made to help fight back against oxidative damage and support your mitochondria so it can work at its best.
Supporting your body through nutrition is one of the best things you can do for muscle recovery. Taking MitoQ as an example, you could be leaving untapped potential on the table that is costing you time during your recovery. Getting good quality nutrition can help ensure your body has everything it could need during the repair.
In closing, the best way to speed up recovery is to support your body in any way that you can. Whether you are recovering from a sports injury or muscle soreness, finding ways to help your body can help the healing process. The key to effective healing is to be patient and give your body the time it needs to heal. Prematurely getting back to activity could result in further injury that could increase recovery in the long run.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.