Your Body Is Designed to Heal Itself

July 28, 2014

   I recently cut my finger. It was deep and I had trouble stopping the bleeding. So, I began to wonder about the body's ability to heal. Guess what? New blog topic…

   We often take the body's ability to heal for granted. In the course of 70+ years, billions of physical functions go right and it's only the rare event the body can't repair. Without the healing process our bodies would not be able to endure all the damage we expose them to throughout our lifetime. A simple paper cut could be deadly. Larger wounds often need outside medical attention to stop the bleeding or prevent infection. Modern medicine can set the body up to heal a major issue, but it's ultimately the body at the cellular level that actually does it.

The Healing Process

   Wound healing is normal biological process that includes four precise phases: hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling. For a wound to heal successfully all four phases must occur in sequence although these steps crossfade into each other.

   The skin, the largest organ in our bodies, acts as a protective barrier from the outside environment. Two layers of the skin, the epidermis and dermis, contain blood vessels that transport blood throughout the body. This protective barrier is broken after an injury, exposing blood vessels and causing bleeding. Instinctively the body attempts to stop the bleeding. This first stage of the healing process is known as hemostasis. Chemicals are released by muscle tissue around the damage to constrict the damaged blood vessels. This reduces the amount of blood flow to the area limiting blood loss.

   Tissue that makes up the skin underneath is made up of proteins called collagen. After an injury, platelets interact with collagen and cause the blood to coagulate forming a scab that temporarily seals the break in the blood vessel. As the bleeding is controlled, the body begins the inflammatory phase of healing that is often associated with pain.

   About two or three days after the wound occurs, fibroblasts begin to enter the wound site. These are cells that secrete substances to make connective tissue, among other things. This marks the onset of the proliferative phase.

   Over the next few days, white blood cells continue to digest bacteria and dead tissue cells. Once bleeding has subsided and the wound is free from infection, the rebuilding of cells begins and fibroblasts continue creating new collagen to the wound.

   The final stage of wound healing is where the myofibroblasts pull the wound edges together. Over time, more collagen is deposited to protect the wound from reopening, creating scar tissue. Our bodies contain a tight running organization of cells necessary to rebuild damaged tissue.

 Does the body go through a similar process when it is healing from a surgical wound?

   Yes it does and taking care of a surgical wound is similar to taking care of cuts and scrapes. You'll probably have to protect the incision with a bandage for a few days and change the dressing daily. Follow your doctor's instructions for caring for your stitches or staples. You'll also want to keep the area dry and report any increase in bleeding or redness to your doctor. Proper hydration, rest and nutrition can help to boost your immune system so your body can resist infection better. 

Foods That Help During the Healing

   Some foods (let's call them immune boosters) help the healing process along like berries and leafy greens. Tumeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and has antibiotic properties. Vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin A are especially important in preventing infections.

   Minerals also known as the building blocks of health are essential to providing benefits for fighting disease and infection. Here is a list of seven important macrominerals your body needs everyday.

 Calcium (sesame seeds, broccoli)
 Chloride (sea salt)
 Magnesium (dark chocolate, almonds)
 Phosphorus (meats, eggs)
 Potassium (bananas)
 Sodium (sea salt)
 Sulphur (garlic, lemon)

  We will have numerous injuries throughout our lifetime, many so small we aren't even aware of them. Taking care of our body each day will help with any recovery it may have to face even if it is a simple cut on the finger. 

Working Out With An Injury

May 26, 2014

  Can you still work out if you have been injured or if you're suffering from chronic aches and pains? Of course you can.

   There are rarely reasons to take a hiatus from exercise. After all, you use your body parts every single day. I would encourage you to do whatever you can to keep your body moving. It enhances your body's ability to improve circulation. Your blood contains oxygen and promotes repair of injuries and cell growth and repair to the affected area. The cells in the body regenerate and repair by reducing the size of the damaged tissue and replace it with new living tissue. This is important in the recovery of your injured area.

   There is also a well recognized interrelationship between hormones, nutrition, and wound healing. When tissue is repaired, the anabolic process of protein synthesis requires the action of anabolic hormones. When outside forces such as exercise occurs, it helps to maintain or increase lean body mass as well as directly stimulate the healing process through anabolic or anticatabolic actions.

   Of course, you are going to have to modify your routine a bit…. Don’t think of an injury as an obstacle it is merely an opportunity to concentrate on other body parts.

Look at the injury as an opportunity

   Repetitve motion can in itself create an injury. We frequently work the same parts in the same way, even though we know it is best to mix up the way we exercise a body part. Use this time to work on different parts of the body more intensly. One thing you don't want to happen while healing in one spot is muscle atrophy from lack of exercise everywhere else. Let's say you have tendonitis in your elbow. Use this time to work more intently on your core, shoulders, or legs. It might be a good time to learn some core pilates exercises or yoga meditation.

Was the injury preventable? 

   Sometimes we get so caught up in the endorphin rush we forget that our body does need to rest between activities. Pushing too hard or too often can be harmful. Overuse can strain or sprain muscles and without enough rest to rebuild they can get injured more easily. If we continue to weaken that body part, over time it can become a chronic injury. Are you warming up and stretching enough afterwards? Working too hard when you're tired or in pain? Awareness of your body's limitations can help in staying injury free.

Will it work for me?

   Absolutely. My client Jerry had a chronic knee and back problem. We discovered that he would sit on the couch for long periods of time, usually after playing ping pong and pickleball. That sitting put a big strain on his back. Years of backpacking and hiking had weakend his otherwise healthy right knee. We worked on developing a stronger core and upper body while the other parts healed. Once healed we returned to the injured body parts strengthening and stretching them as well as the muscles surrounding. Once he could play again, his pickleball game quickly began to improve due to his added upper body strength.  

What can I do?

   Always consult your physician first to make sure you’re healthy enough to exercise during your recovery and to find out what if any movements you might need to avoid. Then try to get back in to your routine, which you've worked hard to maintain. Let's say you ran or did cardio 3 times a week regularly and for now you cannot be on your feet. Try swimming, arm cycling, seated recumbant biking or even chair aerobics to get that heart rate elevated the way it's used to being worked.

The Rice Principle

   As a general guideline, the acronym RICE should serve as the basis of treatment for most minor injuries. R stands for rest – that is, either take a few days off or reduce your training intensity and volume. I stands for ice – ice the affected area to reduce pain and swelling. A good guideline is to ice the area for 15 minutes every two hours to reduce pain and swelling. C stands for compression – apply pressure to the area with an elastic bandage or wrap to minimize inflammation and damage from excessive swelling. E stands for elevation – that is, elevate the affected limb to assist in the drainage of fluid.

  The bottom line is to keep the body moving. The healing process will improve faster and you will feel better from head to toe.