While most athletes are in denial when it comes to acquiring an injury or developing chronic pain, the truth is that sports disciplines are notorious for increasing your risk of experiencing injuries. A better understanding of the natural progression of injuries can help you approach the management of the associated functional loss and pain that may occur.
The following phases are normal after an injury has occurred:
- The Inflammatory Phase – This phase ensues following trauma, lasting for about five days in the event of muscle, tendon, or ligament damage, and lasts up to three weeks if bone is affected. During this phase, damaged tissues are removed and vascular remodeling is undertaken to facilitate blood flow to and from the damaged area.
- The Proliferative Phase – This phase begins following the inflammatory phase and usually sets into motion the rebuilding of damaged tissues. However, the structures built during the proliferative phase are not sturdy and act more as a framework for the next phase. Think of jelly that has not chilled sufficiently; all you have is the raw material that will help mold the structure of the next phase.
- The Remodeling Phase – This is the longest phase in recovery following an injury, often taking well in excess of a year to be fully completed. This is important as it takes time to ensure structural tissues are able to fulfill their mandated functions. Rushing this phase (by attempting to stress the site of injury prematurely) often leads to a subsequent injury or one that never completely recovers.
There are many ways to enhance recovery and manage pain. Let’s discuss some of the options.
IGF-1 is a highly anabolic hormone, synthesized in the liver. It plays an important role in the regeneration of numerous cell types, including those that may often become injured such as muscles, ligaments, and even bones.
Chronic inflammation is strongly associated with low IGF-1 levels, which may indicate that this hormone is quickly depleted during chronic pain due to its mandated anti-inflammatory function. Just think of that for a moment; IGF-1 promotes healing and recovery and helps to manage inflammation.
You can boost IGF-1 levels via the following means:
- Consumption of more dietary protein, especially from whey protein supplements
- Red meat
- Capsaicin and soy isoflavones, which have been shown to boost production of IGF-1 (be careful with soy if you are male)
Used for centuries to assist with recovery of bone fractures, cissus quadrangularis increases the expression of osteopontin, a protein which facilitates bone recovery and remodeling. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation and pain.
Application of Heat
The use of localized heat for a short period of time can help speed up healing and recovery in a manner that is superior to ice. Even though ice remains effective for acute management of pain and inflammation, over the long haul it does not support true recovery.
The ability of heat to promote recovery lies in the actions of heat shock proteins (HSPs), which mediate anatomically correct structural regeneration. If you’ve ever heard of a fracture incorrectly recovering, this is likely a result of insufficient heat shock protein recruitment.
Heat shock proteins also support muscle protein synthesis, especially following periods of inactivity. This makes it great for supporting recovery on two fronts:
- Helps you quickly regain muscle mass that you lost following an injury that contributed to mobility issues.
- Supports proper recovery (setting) of bone or connective tissues to ensure maximal functionality.
These are excellent for supporting the management of pain localized to one area. Penetration of these preparations through the skin is only moderate at best, which means that even if they contain NSAIDs pharmaceuticals, the likelihood of experiencing adverse effects related to them are extremely rare.
Topical analgesics may only provide moderate pain relief, but can oftentimes save you from reliance on addictive medication for pain relief. We usually recommend natural topicals rather than NSAIDs as they tend to not be disruptive to the body’s natural healing processes.
Natural topical analgesics usually include the following ingredients:
- Menthol – Activates kappa opioid receptors found in the skin, initiating analgesia.
- Camphor – Provides pain relief through a mechanism identical to menthol, but also possesses mild anesthetic properties.
- Capsaicin – This well-known extract of chili peppers works by depleting a compound known as substance P, which is involved in the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Depletion leads to inefficient signaling and diminished pain perception.
The Controversial Remedy: Kratom
Kratom can be considered one of the most promising, yet controversial natural remedies for the treatment of pain on the planet. Kratom contains specific alkaloids, which have been found to exert potent action on the opioid system found in the body, leading to significant pain relief.
Kratom is actually a member of the same family of plants as coffee belongs to, but with its effects best summarized as more of a mood booster and painkiller, it is not necessarily a stimulant. The attributes of kratom depend on the type of strain you use. Kratom grows abundantly throughout parts of Southeast Asia, but not all kratom plants share the exact same composition of active constituents.
For instance, the Indo, Borneo, and Bali strains (found mainly growing in Indonesia) are very good for relieving pain but possess somewhat of a sedating action. In contrast, maeng da also referred to as the “king” of kratom strains, is extremely good for pain but more stimulating.
Some compare it to the feeling of drinking coffee, which is not that surprising considering that they are related. Malaysian strains strike the best balance between modest pain relief and an effect that won’t shift your energy balance in any particular direction (so no drowsiness or stimulation) and are best suited for long-term use owing to a greater degree of balanced effects.
In reality, kratom is an extremely safe plant, many times more so than commonly prescribed opioid drugs, even though the media often tries to paint a different picture.
What makes kratom the superior alternative? It has excellent analgesic potency but without the risk of respiratory depression (hypoventilation) and death. Opioids, such as morphine, are strong analgesics, but also cause noticeable sedation and respiratory depression. It is not uncommon for people that overdose on such drugs to simply die in their sleep, as breathing may cease altogether.
Statistics from 2016 indicate that on average 46 people die every single day from opioid overdoses. The numbers attributed to kratom as a stand-alone supplement is less than 50 deaths in all of recorded human history (and often falsely accused, more on that soon).
This is less than cannabis, by the way, which is now considered a medicinal and even recreational legal substance in some US states. Regardless of this huge advantage that kratom possesses over opioid drugs, the FDA has tried to make it a banned substance.
Native islanders of the South East Pacific have been using kratom daily for centuries with no associated deaths (millions of people using it every year). Its alleged association with deaths in the United States have not been conclusive.
In the vast majority of cases were death had resulted, kratom was not the only substance found in the person’s blood, but rather a cocktail of substances the likes of cocaine, heroin, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and more. These substances are well-known to possess significant risks and are likely to have been the main contributors to the death of those individuals.
Clearly, interest surrounding kratom has increased drastically in the last decades as the plant has been helping more and more people safely treat their chronic health issues and free themselves from a lifelong addiction to painkillers. There is also a documentary about kratom on Netflix called “A Leaf of Faith”—which I highly recommend.
Even though kratom is hundreds of times safer than opioid pain medications, it is still good to exercise caution when starting to use it. The consumption of kratom causes stimulation of the opioid receptors, which can lead to mild tolerance—the effect is comparable to the tolerance you develop from chronic coffee/caffeine consumption.
This tolerance is what some “experts” are worried about, and what they based their past arguments on supporting a ban, though it needs to be clear that association does not equal causation. Think of it this way; 100% of persons that breathe in oxygen will die. Does it mean that oxygen is the “true” killer? Not exactly. This is a clear case of guilt by association and one that poor kratom is the victim of.
The reality is that when you compare opioids and kratom, it is more likely that the reason some powerful parties have pushed for a ban on kratom is that they face a complete loss of revenue from pharmaceutical drugs such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. You cannot patent a natural substance, hence kratom will always belong to the people.
Much of the analgesic potency of kratom is attributed to the presence of two compounds: mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Kratom’s ability to diminish pain perception (otherwise known as nociception), is useful in managing chronic pain of an intractable nature— the compression of a spinal nerve or vertebrae, for example. Kratom acts by interacting with the mu opioid receptors (MOR), which stimulates the release of endorphins, boosts mood, and mitigates the sensation of pain.
The Power of The Mind
Though nutrition and supplements can help speed up your recovery, there are also free ways to do the same. Sometimes the brain perceives an injury or pain to be much worse than it really is. In turn, this feeds your perception of pain—inevitably prolonging your recovery.
Mindful meditation can help shorten the recovery curve because it emphasizes realistic determination of the present state of things. As it turns out, your expectations about your recovery can alter the natural progression of recuperation, so think positive and say goodbye to your suffering!