Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Heal Faster

When I went to the ER last Sunday with crippling pain in my side, the doctor told me that I probably wouldn't be able to run my marathon, and that I'd be unable to exercise for up to 6 weeks.

I wasn't devastated, and that's because I wasn't buying it.

Lo and behold, here I am a week and a half after my injury, and I'm back to doing (almost) everything I love to do. So, was the ER doctor wrong?  Yes and no. 

When people get injured, they often take it as an opportunity to act like a victim.   "Poor me, look at what happened to me!"  They will then proceed to take it easy, pop a bunch of pain pills and eat ice cream until their bodies just up and decide one day that it's all better.  While there's nothing wrong with that approach, an athlete approaches injury very differently.

When athletes gets injured, especially one with a looming event date like a marathon, they become active in the process of their healing.  Their first priority is to do anything and everything within their power to shorten the amount of time that they will be immobilized.

I got home from the ER that day and immediately went to Google and learned everything I could about a broken rib.  Between my research and seeking advice from family and friends, I came up with some things I could do to heal more quickly: 

1. I alternated using ice and heat on my side for the first two days to reduce the swelling. Much like a muscle injury, this method can reduce swelling around the break and help a bone heal faster, which I didn't know until I looked it up.

2. I ate a healthy diet and avoided alcohol.  It would have been very easy for me to turn to comfort foods and liquid pain meds to cope with my post-injury depression.  I knew that this was not going to help, so I exercised some discipline.  (Key word: some.  I certainly didn't just eat carrots all day, and I did have a few drinks over the weekend.)

3. I went to my doctor.  While the ER doctor told me that I didn't need to follow up with my primary physician, I wanted to make sure I had all the medical advice I could get.  I made an appointment for last Friday and I brought my x-ray from the ER.  (Tip: Always get your x-ray.) 

My primary doctor told me several things that were helpful to my healing, the most important being that he wasn't entirely sure that the rib was actually broken.  Furthermore, he encouraged me to get back to exercising as soon as I could tolerate it.  "Aside from falling again," he said, "there's nothing you can do to injure it more."

Getting back to exercise wasn't easy at first.  When I took a few running strides on Sunday, and winced in pain with every step, I thought there was no way I'd be able to run a marathon four weeks from now.  But instead of giving up, I went out and bought a wrap for my midsection to keep from jarring the injury, and tried running again on Monday.  After adjusting my running gait and starting out a little slower, this time I was able to tolerate 15 minutes.  And by last night I was able to run four miles at normal speed.  I'm getting better, and it's because I'm figuring out how to make myself better.

When you're sick or injured, it's important to become an advocate for your own health. Healing an injury takes time and unfortunately the amount of time it takes is not entirely up to you, but there are certainly things you can do to help yourself heal more quickly if you are educated and motivated to do so.  And while doctors and medications are helpful, they aren't going to magically cure you.  You are the only person who can heal you.

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