Sleep is probably one of the last things you think about when you are trying to recover from your back pain or injury, and it might well be something most therapist don't think too much about when working with their clients or patients. However it is such an important part of the puzzle of recovering from injury but also in preventing getting injured in the first place.
We spend roughly a third of our life asleep and this is the time when our bodies do the vast majority of its healing. So why do we pay so little attention to it? Maybe we take it for granted and get too hung up on the sexy stuff like biomechanics, exercise programming and the like but ultimately these are mid way up the pyramid of things we can change for me, sleep and nutrition are the absolute bedrock from which to build a healthy, vital injury resistant body.
The effects of sleep deprivation and recovery have been well documented in the scientific literature for example Schwartz et al found that just 8 hours of sleep deprivation acutely downregulates makers of muscle repair alongside contractile function of the muscle itself, showing that reduced sleep will also affect performance. Furthermore Datillio found that sleep debt reduces protein synthesis and increased cortisol favouring the breakdown of muscle, therefore potentially making any injury worse, alongside altering feeding behaviour which has implications on our health in general.
Olivia et al and Engle-friedman also found a strong link between sleep debt and a reduction in muscle function. This has implications on preventing injuries and really opens up the idea that it may not be best to push yourself hard on days that you are feeling over tired or sleep deprived. That's not to say that you shouldn't do anything instead try to develop a relationship with your body that allows you to get a better understanding of when you should and shouldn't push yourself. For example a simple technique I use myself and I teach my patients is a traffic light system of exercise. This is a great technique I learnt from world renown rehabilitation expert Paul Chek.
Red: If you are feel exhausted and the idea of exercise or any kind of movement makes you want to curl up in ball then you would probably benefit from either taking a day off or doing some work-in exercises I further concept developed my Paul. In essence do an activity that gives you energy like yoga, tai chi, walking or a simple stretching routine, also using this time to really focus on diaphragmatic breathing can go a long way in making you feel more energetic. Also, if you are ill or have an extreme case of DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) if would be wise to give that body part a rest.
Yellow: Yellow is probably where most people live when exercising or training on a regular basis these are the days that you don't feel amazing but you are not so exhausted that the idea of training makes you want to curl up into a ball. on these days make sure you have a really thorough warm up. Most of the time a really good warm up will make you feel like you want to really get at it in the gym if however you still feel off then either train with reduced volume or intensity, so for example if you had a deadlift based workout where you had say 6 sets to do then instead of the 6 sets drop it to 4. Remember it is always better to under train then over train and one session is not going to make much of a difference.
Green: These are the days you are feeling great and you may even feel excited about working out hard. These are the days to try and push yourself that little bit further. Get at it!
Osteoporosis is a condition that makes bones more brittle and prone to fracture. Although osteoporosis can effect men and younger people, post-menopausal women are most at risk. One of the best ways to help maintain healthy bones is to exercise regularly – which encourages the bones to absorb calcium and other mineral salts that keep bones strong.
Weight bearing exercises and weight resisted exercises are best for strengthening bones and muscles and as well as helping to keep bones in good health may also reduce the likelihood of falls as you age. Weight bearing exercises are those where your body is supporting its own weight, such as walking or housework or carrying groceries. Weight resisted exercise involves pushing or pulling against an additional weight, like a dumbbell or barbell or resistance equipment in a gym.
The younger you start, the better
Anyone can benefit from weight training but it has been demonstrated that younger women who trained using weights have stronger bones later in life, this essentially means that you can bank bone when you’re younger to help prevent fractures later in life – a kind of insurance scheme for your body. A life time of active living not only protects your bones but also keeps your heart healthy and may protect you from other diseases such as cancer and type two diabetes.
But starting at any age will help
Everyone can benefit from increasing their activity levels. Studies have shown that people who have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis can improve their bone health significantly through weight bearing exercising, the key is getting good advice on how to move well and how to self-manage.
Sprains and strains to muscles and joints happen to all of us and for most they are a painful, but temporary reminder to be a little more careful. Prompt action can help your body to heal faster and may prevent further injury or prolonged pain.
Strained or ‘pulled’ muscles often happen when we over exert untrained muscles, train without properly warming up or try to go beyond a joint’s natural flexibility. Sometimes we feel the pain straight away, however some injuries might not cause pain until later on. What can you do?
Remember RICE (Relative rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation), using these can help to relieve the pain and start the healing process.
Relative rest: The first thing to do if you feel pain is to reduce the offending activity – pain is usually your body’s way of telling you that there is something wrong that needs your attention. It can be normal to feel a little sore after exercises for a day or two, but if it is more than this, pushing through the pain is rarely beneficial.
However, movement stimulates the healing process so stay as mobile as you comfortably can. Try to keep the joint moving through a comfortable range of motion, without forcing it to the point of pain. This will help to encourage blood flow and keep your joint flexible whilst it heals. This is particularly relevant for back pain as gentle exercise, such as walking, can help. You should slowly build your activity levels up as soon as your symptoms begin to resolve and as soon as you are able.
Andy has been involved in the health & fitness industry for over 10 years, specialising in corrective exercise, injury prevention and rehabilitation of low back, neck and shoulder pain. He also has an interest in the use of Osteopathy for the management of headaches.