At a speaking event I was asked if I ever get sick. It happens rarely, but it does happen! Even naturopathic doctors are vulnerable to all the same ailments and injuries as everyone else. One of the foundations of naturopathic medicine is that health doesn’t happen accidentally. It is the cumulative effect of many habits and choices throughout our day-to-day. When we cultivate the practices that promote our well-being, we become ill less often.
Today I am nursing a sore back. As many of you know from my bio, I was in 8 car accidents between ages 16 and 26. Since then, my body requires a level of consistent self care to maintain strength and flexibility in my spine that doesn’t leave a lot of room for slacking off. Although summer is usually a very active time for me, this year had some life events that prevented my usual level of activity. Additionally, I didn’t maintain the practices I typically use to stay fit, strong, and flexible during times of inactivity. It was summer, and I never need to do those things in the summer, and it just didn’t occur to me. Doh! Fortunately, I realized I was starting to feel weak in my core and back, and resumed my maintenance activities. So, how did I become injured? We’ll get to that in a moment, but first I want to talk about exercise.
There is a trifecta of exercise when it comes to physical maintenance: flexibility, cardio, and strength training. Most people I see in my practice enjoy and pursue one, or sometimes two of these things, but few people are hitting all 3 marks, and when they develop a soft tissue musculoskeletal injury, it is often a result of the neglected area of physical maintenance. It’s best to do a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise daily, alternating between different types for overall fitness. For my return to exercise, I selected 3 activities.
For cardio, I started the Couch to 5k app by Zen Labs. This training app begins with 30 minute sessions that alternate between brisk walking and jogging, then, over a period of 8 weeks, works up to about 40 minutes of jogging. It is a great program for allowing your joints and muscles to become used to the new level of activity, with a rest day or two between each activity session. Cycling, either around town or on a stationary bike, are is also a great way to get your heart rate up.
For flexibility, I like yoga. Sometimes I attend yoga classes, other times I do videos. This time around I found several YouTube videos by Yoga by Candace. She has many videos of different levels, styles, and lengths. If you are new to yoga, videos are a challenging way to learn, and I recommend attending a few classes with an instructor who can guide you in the basic moves. If you have tried yoga before, YouTube videos can be a great way to fit it into a busy work schedule.
For strength training, I continued with my daily activities. I have a small homestead, and many of the maintenance activities around here require a lot of muscle. I also wear wrist and ankle weights when I do typical household tasks, such as vacuuming, cleaning windows, and mowing the lawn. Simple home exercises such as sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups are also great for building muscles. If you prefer weight training, I recommend starting with a personal trainer who can guide you in the correct form and prevent injury.
If you are new to physical activity, or returning after a break, you may want to visit a physician (DC, DO, or ND) who does physical medicine. Maintaining structural alignment with any new routine is really important to prevent injury, and to keep old injuries from flaring up.
In my case, I built up too hard too fast. I pushed a lot of activity without enough time to allow my body to adjust to the new level of challenge I was demanding. Having a history of physical trauma puts me in a higher risk group for re-injury if I’m not maintaining my fitness. So yes indeed, doctors can and do become ill and injured! I have to admit though, there is a good side to all this. I get to personally try all the new products that have come on the market for pain and inflammation. Market research! There is nothing like personal experience to evaluate efficacy. Here are some of my favorites tools for treating soft tissue musculoskeletal injury.
Calcium and magnesium are important nutrients for treating muscle spasms. A spasm puts our muscle in higher metabolic activity and creates greater need for these nutrients. Nutrient deficiency can cause sore muscles and limit repair when injured. Vitamin C is also useful for inflammation and muscle soreness.
Boswellia, turmeric, and devil’s claw are all excellent anti-inflammatory herbs. Turmeric absorbs best with oil and black pepper, so look for formulas that include some of this, or use it as a kitchen herb in a curry with coconut milk.
There are several topical preparations that can help with pain as well: homeopathic Arnica, essential oils, menthol based icy-hot gels, and capsaicin (cayenne) cream. With any of these, test a small area of your skin first for sensitivity before applying to a large area. Avoid applying to sensitive skin and mucus membranes.
Water is also a great tool for managing injury and pain. During the first 24 hours, follow RICE recommendations. After 24 hours, Epsom salt baths or hot packs can be used to ease muscle spasms. For healing injuries over time, contrast hydrotherapy is useful in reducing pain and inflammation, and stimulating healing. Perform by alternating 3 minutes of heat with 30 seconds of cold over the affected area. Repeat 3x, and always end on cold.
Some injuries respond well with kinesio-taping, medical wrapping, and flexible casts. In severe cases, hard casts or surgery may be required for treatment. These types of injuries typically have significant pain and swelling, limited mobility and function, and do not improve with home treatment. If your injury is severe, life threatening, or worsens and does not improve with home treatment, see a qualified medical provider.
There you have it! Some starter tips for natural pain relief and treatment of mild soft tissue musculoskeletal injury. Want more personal or specific recommendations? Please make an appointment for a Botanical Medicine Consult or Naturopathic Care. Appointments are available in office or as telemedicine consults.