by Zoe Macpherson, former Sports & Remedial Massage Therapist with Bristol Massage Therapy
8 weeks into a complex foot injury with the added pleasure of chronic pain has given me plenty of time to ponder! Here I share those reflections.
I have analysed, scrutinised, laughed, cried, prayed, moaned, ranted, raved, slept and not slept, driven myself (and my husband) mad! I am no stranger to injury or illness and that was what led me to massage therapy. Some injuries can be a real struggle and affect your quality of life, particularly if there is no clear prognosis or treatment available. Initially I told myself it would be fine. I would rest and it would heal shortly, even if the doctors couldn't give me an answer.
As the weeks went on and it didn't change, it dawned on me this was not a short term problem and the light at the end of the tunnel started to fade. It is not just physical restrictions (I have become very adept at bum shuffling up and down three flights of stairs and crawling to the bathroom at night), but mental factors that can be difficult to manage when we are injured or unwell. An important factor in recovery is having good support around you (and access to great therapists!). For some people however, help may not be on hand.
I have learnt over the years that even though rest is vital, some of the best help comes from your own hard work and taking action, particularly to manage pain and low mood.
Remember there is nothing certain about an injury or illness. Doctors do not unfortunately know everything about the body. The body has a miraculous power to heal if given time and the right environment to do this. As a massage therapist I have seen this in my clients’ recoveries; there is a lot we can do to encourage self healing in the body. Here are some of the key factors I feel are essential to encourage healing and recovery:
Rest and self care
Protection and rest are vital in the acute stages. Injury and illness are often the body’s way of saying SLOW DOWN! Do try to get enough rest, but also seek advice from your therapist or doctor, who will suggest alternative exercise and modifications to keep you active wherever possible. We may push to return too soon to daily activities or sport, only to face a longer layoff. For acute injuries; ice, compression and elevation are most helpful to control pain and swelling. If you have an occurrence of a chronic problem, a hot water bottle or warm bath can do wonders for stiffness. I would also encourage a warm salt bath if muscle aches are a key component of your injury (read the article on Salt Baths).
If pain is a major factor, learning a short daily meditation practice, practising mindfulness and relaxation exercises can turn down the volume on pain and help you manage it better - have a look at Headspace, Breathworks Mindfulness and WildMind Buddhist Meditation for some ideas on how this might work for you.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping moving. Yes, we need to protect the injured part and rest, but early movement has been shown to help prevent stiffness, weakness, fatigue and altered co-ordination that may otherwise hamper recovery. Our nervous system works to protect us from movements it perceives threatening, but sometimes this is not for our own good and it can become overprotective and sensitised (read the article on Different Approaches to Pain). Gentle movement and stretching each day, particularly if you spend the day sitting or lying in bed, is vital. Follow advice from your medical team as closely as you can. Don’t give up, even when it feels hard, it will make a big difference in the long term to your recovery.
Focus on the present. What can you do NOW to help yourself? Tell yourself you will get better, believe that you will, and do everything you can to move towards this. If negative thoughts are swimming round your mind, be aware of them, but try not to dwell on them. Negative thoughts have a powerful detrimental effect on our body’s function. Every cloud has a silver lining - search hard for this in your situation. It may be having some more time to spend with your kids, reading or tv episodes you wanted to catch up on, seeing friends (and getting spoiled), or purely having some time for you while you recover.
I truly believe everything happens for a reason. We may not like it, but bad things always make us stronger in some way. Most of us don’t have enough time to rest. We lead busy lives packed full of activities, with long days spent at work or looking after others. So when injury hits it can feel very frustrating. Acceptance, and not resisting your situation, can help you to feel better mentally.
I have seen the effects of both good and poor nutrition on injury and illness as a dietitian over the past 11 years. The body needs nutrients for basic functioning, but it will also need nutrients for recovery and repair. If these are missing injury can be a much longer process to recover from. The right food also makes us feel good in ourselves (as well as the odd ‘wrong’ food) and this is key to recovery.
There is one last thing I haven’t mentioned, which made a massive difference to my recovery … excellent massage therapy! A big thank you to my colleagues at BMT for their help, I really do work with an excellent team of therapists. If you are suffering from an injury or illness do think about including massage therapy in your recovery. As my favourite saying advises:
You only have one body to live in, so take care of it.