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Vail Natural Health: Resolving sports injuries

Nick Bitz
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Sports-related injuries are almost an inevitable part of living in Colorado’s Vail Valley. That said, it is important to understand a few basic self-care techniques that you can use to help resolve sports injuries naturally, without the use of drugs and medications.

At the root of most every sports injury is an inflammatory component. For this reason, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen are typical first-line treatments. NSAIDs are indeed very effective suppressors of inflammation. They work by blocking the COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes that promote inflammation and pain in the body. In doing so, they also cause some nasty side effects when used long-term – namely intestinal bleeding, kidney damage, liver congestion and sometimes liver failure.

I propose that inflammation is not such a bad thing. Inflammation comes from the latin root inflamatio, meaning “to set on fire.” It is the body’s natural response to injury that allows for self-healing of damaged tissue. Through this reaction, the body is able to renew cellular function, regenerate new muscle and bone, tighten up damaged ligaments and tendons, and ultimately create stronger and more durable tissues that resist future injuries.

Research has shown that chronic suppression of the inflammatory cascade using NSAIDs actually inhibits the body’s ability to repair itself in an efficient manner, and ultimately creates weaker, more fragile tissues in the body.

In my mind, it makes much more sense to support, rather than suppress, the body’s innate wisdom and intent to heal itself. Using natural, non-suppressive medicines, it is easy to resolve inflammation more quickly and more completely.

So what are natural alternatives to Advil?

1) Limit all physical activity and rest your body after sustaining an injury.

2) Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, choosing organic whole foods (whole grains, whole fruits, whole vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes) that are primarily plant-based. Additionally, it may be a good idea to take a quality multi-vitamin-mineral product, to ensure that your body is getting nutrients essential for tissue reparation.

3) Consume a therapeutic dose of omega-3 fatty acids. I recommend that everybody consume at least 1-2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily in order to decrease the base level of inflammation in the body. Simply eating more of the omega-3-rich foods can be helpful. However, for acute injuries I recommend much larger doses that require supplementation with a good quality fish oil. I find that 4 grams of fish oil, taken three times daily, is an effective intervention for relaxing the tissues, for allowing increased perfusion of blood to injured areas, and for resolving inflammation more expediently.

4) Contrast hydrotherapy is a basic but extremely effective therapy for inflammatory conditions. The idea is to alternate hot and cold water applications on the site of injury. The hot application increases vasodilation of the blood vessels, which brings more nutrients and oxygen to the area. The cold application constricts the blood vessels, shunting blood away from the area. This back-and-forth action ensures that the injured area is constantly flushed with new blood. The general rule is four minutes hot, followed by one minute cold, with at least 8 to 12 alterations. It’s important to always start with hot and end with cold.

5) Calcium and magnesium are two commonly deficient nutrients that help to relax tissues and therefore encourage good blood flow. During acute inflammation, be sure to take 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium and 500 to 700 mg of magnesium daily with food. Additionally, you might consider soaking in an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salts are full of magnesium that is easily absorbed through the skin. Add two pounds of Epsom salts to your bath water.

6) Explore botanical medicines. Whereas NSAIDS are essentially one synthetic molecule affecting one biochemical pathway, herbs offer us a broad range of phyto-chemicals that promote a healthy inflammatory response overall. My favorite inflammation-modulating herbs are turmeric, ginger, and boswellia.

7) Homeopathy really does work. For sports injuries in particular, I use a product called Traumeel with great success. Traumeel is a combination of several homeopathic remedies that work to relieve pain and resolve inflammation. The product can be found in pill-form and in a topical cream.

8) Proteolytic enzymes, such as bromelain, are as effective as NSAIDs without any of the side-effects. When taken with meals, the enzymes help digest food. But taken away from food, they neutralize the chemicals of inflammation to levels at which repair and regeneration can take place. These alone can have a profound effect on inflammation and pain levels.

These are just a few suggestions that I hope you will consider the next time you twist your ankle while hiking up Grouse Mountain, or hurt your knee running the Eagle Valley trail. While it may be easy to reach for that bottle of Advil, know that there are far better options available to you.

Enjoy the summer. And play safe.

Nick Bitz is a Naturopathic Doctor at the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic. He can be reached by phone at 970-926-7606, or via e-mail at dr.nickbitz@gmail.com.


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