How can nutrition help to speed up injury recovery?
When I fractured my leg and ruptured a couple of ligaments in my knee back in 2014, I was shocked at the complete lack of nutritional guidance people are given to support their recovery.
As I laid in hospital after my operation making friends with the rest of the patients on the ward who had also been in for their knee operations that day, we began discussing our recovery strategies. I mentioned what I did and discussed with them my thoughts on nutrition and its ability to support injury recovery. For many if not all of them I know this is the only nutritional advice they would have got throughout their whole recovery.
It is very interesting that both doctors and physical therapists tend to have very little regard for the role nutrition can play in the recovery of injuries and the rehabilitation process.
Interestingly the injury recovery process on a physiological level is an orderly one and one in which we can influence with nutrition and lifestyle management. Below I am going to take you through different phases of injury and how nutrition may help.
Stage 1 – Inflammation phase
This is the first stage of healing lasting up to about 5 days. Nutrition at this point plays a limited role, as you want the body to run through its own natural inflammatory response. Trying to use specific nutritional compounds at this point to calm inflammation can actually have a negative effect on the injury outcome, thus a general focus on health nutrition habits is all that is required.
Once the injury occurs blood-clotting forms, inflammation begins, clean-up cells are sent to the wounded area and the process of repair is initiated.
Stage 2 – The proliferation phase
From about day 4-5 this phase lasts for around a few weeks or more. Once the initial inflammation subsides and new blood flow is reestablished the body is now able to feed oxygen and nutrients to help the rebuilding process.
Nutrition can play a role in supporting blood flow, nutrients required to support normal and faster regeneration of tissue and can also be used to help control chronic levels of inflammation and continue the process of removing unwanted debris around the site of injury.
Stage 3 – Remodeling phase of injury
This phase can go from a few weeks lasting up to a couple of years or more. Many tissues have quite poor blood supply thus an injury can take some time to heal and fully recover. Optimising your nutrition means you can supply the body with the correct nutrients that are going to support recovery and also utilise nutrients and compounds that can enhance the recovery process.
Different tissues may require slightly different nutrient demands, thus targeted nutrition may help support specific injury rehabilitation.