Predicting how long your body will take to recover from injury or pain can be difficult, because each individual person will have many different factors that can influence their pain.
Your recovery time will depend if your pain is from an acute or chronic issue. We use the terms "acute" and "chronic" to describe your injury or pain type - acute being a new, fresh injury, usually where tissue damage has occurred; and chronic being a longer term condition or pain that continues well after expected tissue healing should have occurred.
Acute injuries can include things like ankle sprains, hamstring tears, shoulder dislocations. Usually they happen quickly and are immediately obvious that something is wrong. Maybe you've lifted something too heavy in your gym routine and felt a twinge of pain in your back as a muscle has strained, or you've missed the last step and felt a sharp shock of pain in your hip or knee. High impact blows can also cause acute injuries, like if you have a fall, get in a car accident, or get kicked from a horse.
Chronic pain can stem from an originally acute injury. Its common for people to have ongoing pain or sensitivity after an injury that causes a lot of damage. Chronic pain can also be part of many health conditions, like hypermobility and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, and other conditions that affect your nervous system or connective tissue. Chronic pain also describes pain that comes from repetitive patterns of movement or positioning, usually starting as a mild irritation that can build up to be very painful, like De Quervains or "Mummy Thumb" which a lot of new parents experience as intense wrist and thumb pain from holding and feeding their new baby.
As a very generalised observation, acute injuries tend to follow fairly predictable recovery pattern as long as normal tissue healing occurs. In fact, the pain of an acute injury can often go away even before the tissue healing has completed, like in the case of a mild ankle sprain where you may be able to weight bear and return to normal movement within a week, even if the tissue around the ankle is still in repair mode. The severity of the acute injury will usually give us an indication of your expected healing time - a mild injury takes a shorter time to recover than a severe injury, this follows our common sense understanding even without medical training.
But what about chronic injuries or pain? How can we estimate how long an old injury will take to feel better? And importantly, can we realistically expect long term pain like a very old injury or pain from a lifelong disorder or disease to fully recover? This is where pain starts to become complicated, because in chronic pain patients there are lots of factors involved in the pain outside of damaged muscles, joints or nerves.
Chronic pain in one area of your body can lead to pain developing in other areas when your body tries to find different ways of getting things done. If gripping a heavy object becomes painful in your wrists, you may find yourself balancing it on your forearms and tilting backwards from your pelvis instead. As a short term work around this might be ok, but over time you might find yourself with chronic wrist pain AND chronic lower back and hip pain. Unfortunately, if you have a few "layers" of pain areas, this can mean that its likely to take longer to unravel some of the patterns that have lead your body to being in pain.
Chronic pain tends to be unpredictable in how long it may take to resolve. For people with pain stemming from lifelong conditions like genetic disorders, autoimmune disease or neurological disorders, the pain is likely to come and go in flares, and our aim for these people is to reduce the severity and frequency of the flares that are a part of their condition.
What other factors can contribute to how quickly you recover?
Adaptations to movements and positions:
Firstly, we need to identify movements or positions you currently do that either exaggerate or relieve your pain. Some of these will be easier to adapt than others - if you notice sitting longer than an hour increases your pain, an easy adaptation may be to get up every 30-60 minutes for a brief stretch. If you spend the majority of your day sitting at your computer, we can look at starting and ending your day with a back extension exercise to decompress your lower back. If we find some movements that relieve your pain, we can look at ways of increasing your time spent doing those movements.
We know that we won't be able to change all of the repetitive movements and actions that are needed in your daily life at work and at home, so realistically understanding that some of those things are contributors to your pain means we need to focus on the things we can influence so we can reduce the impact of the things we can't change.
There are lots and lots of options for changing some of the movement and position habits your body has built up, and our therapists can help with some suggestions during your appointment.
Finding a suitable type of exercise for your pain can be very helpful in building strength around the area and in stimulating your body to release its own brand of feel good hormones and neurotransmitters that reduce pain sensations. Exercise might sound very overwhelming to start off, especially if you have a lot of interconnected areas of pain, so our therapists will start you at an appropriate level for where you are at. That might be some mild stretches, a gentle walk or swim, or even a visualisation of doing certain movements.
What you eat influences how your body repairs and recovers. If you have food sensitivities or intolerances this can also effect your bodies inflammatory response - the more inflammation, the more sensitive our nervous system is to pain. If you were already eating a good diet prior to your injury, you are likely in a better position to recover quicker than someone who was eating nutrient-poor food or a diet that caused inflammation. A nutritionist may also be able to recommend supplements that can support your bodies natural healing processes.
Fitness & General Health:
You may be more likely to have an easier recovery from injury if you were in fairly good health and physical condition before your injury. Your recovery may be slower if you have pre-existing health concerns, including things like diabetes or autoimmune disease. Its never too late to start working towards a healthier lifestyle!
Good sleep is crucial to good healing. Pain can make sleep very difficult, and this can become a bad cycle of intense pain leading to poor sleep, resulting in feeling fatigued, which causes pain to increase, and so on. Breaking this cycle and getting some proper rest can help with recovery. Using extra pillows to support your body may allow you a longer and deeper sleep. There are also lots of great sleep apps or meditations that some people find useful in falling asleep or getting back to sleep if you wake up in the night. Speak with a nutritionist or pharmacist about night time supplements that can help aid with sleep.
Nervous System Health:
Chronic pain is often just as much about your nervous system as it is about your musculoskeletal system. This means if you are highly anxious, stressed, depressed, or just have a lot on your plate right now, that your pain levels may be higher than normal. The nervous system controls your entire body, so while we're not saying "your pain is in your head, you're making it up!" what we are saying is that if your nervous system is working overtime then its much more likely that your pain will be noticeable even in response to small actions. Think of it like a kettle that has just boiled, it takes much less time to reboil the kettle because its already hot. The nervous system is similar, it will take much less action for your nervous system to turn up the volume on your pain because its already on high alert.
Finding ways of supporting your nervous system is crucial for long term chronic pain conditions. This is also why medications for anxiety and depression are often prescribed for people with ongoing pain. There are lots of natural or herbal supplement options available through Naturopaths and health stores. Setting a nervous system health routine for yourself is also a hugely valuable part of managing stress and overwhelm, and this might include things like mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, affirmations, or anything else that helps you to tone down nervous system activity.
Self Care Tools:
Treatments with your practitioner are great, but having the tools and know-how to apply treatment principles at home goes a long way to helping you take charge of your recovery. We can teach you how to use a range of tools for releasing tight spots in your body so that you have some tricks up your sleeve for between treatments.
Get the type of treatment that your body responds to. Some people respond best to hands on treatments like massage, cupping and dry needling. Some people go better with active exercise based treatments. Our therapists can advise you of the treatment types that have been reported to work best for your type of pain, but ultimately each individual body can react differently, and we'll work towards finding the best combination of treatment techniques for you.
Be aware that trying too many treatment types at once for the same issue can make it very difficult for any of your health practitioners to determine which treatment is effective. This is also why we'll often pick a small number of Myotherapy techniques to use in each treatment, because if we use absolutely everything we know all at once, its very hard to know what worked and what didn't.
Go into your first treatment expecting that it might take your body a little while to start making long term changes, especially if your pain has been there for a long time and if repetitive movements and positions seem to be a big part of your pain hanging around.
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