Injuries are an unfortunate part of the human experience. They happen to all of us, whether in the acute form (e.g. ligament sprains, joint dislocations, broken bones) or in the overuse form (e.g. tendinitis/tendinopathy, stress fractures). Some injuries may require immobilization or surgical intervention, while others may be treated conservatively with rest and rehabilitation. All injuries have one thing in common: recovery time.
The nature of the injury will dictate the expected recovery time. In general, many sprains and strains heal within 4-6 weeks, while many fractures heal within 6-8 weeks. I am frequently asked by patients and parents of young patients how to speed recovery times. Human biology only moves so quickly, so in many cases we are not able to meaningfully change the timeline. However, there are some important steps that all individuals can take to maximize their recovery from injury (or surgery):
Get adequate sleep
Our bodies undergo critical repair and rebuild processes during sleep. This applies not only to healing injuries, but also to repairing and rebuilding from daily stressors. Getting sufficient sleep during your recovery is the single most important thing you can do to maximize your recovery and help your body to heal from injury. School age children require 9-12 hours of sleep each night, adolescents 8-10 hours, and adults 7+ hours. To ensure your sleep is also of sufficient quality, maintain consistent sleep and wake times, keep electronics out of the bedroom, avoid screens in the hour before bed, and sleep in a cool, dark room.
Eat real food
Highly refined and processed foods, especially sugar and white flours, contribute to inflammation as well as pain perception. Ideally at all times, but especially when healing from injury, avoid highly processed and refined foods. Instead nourish your body with whole foods that can be found in nature. Eat meats, poultry, and fish. Eat vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Choose less refined starches, such as whole oats and potatoes and winter squashes. Limit packaged foods containing multiple ingredients or things that come from a processing plant. Unprocessed, nutrient dense foods will provide your body with the nutrients needed to support the healing process.
Alcohol is poison to the human body. When you ingest alcohol, your body will cease rebuild and repair processes until the alcohol is fully metabolized and cleared from the system. Smoking will also slow the healing process and prolong recovery time.
Follow your medical provider's directions regarding rest and activity modifications
My number one goal in treating an injury is to get my patient back to their desired activity safely. When my colleagues and I recommend that you cease, avoid, or modify an activity, it is because we feel that it is absolutely necessary to help you heal. If one chooses to ignore that advice, it is highly likely that the timeline to return to sport or activity will be delayed. In some instances, ignoring your medical provider's advice may lead to further harm.
In all of this, remember that you, the patient, are part of an important team of patient and healthcare provider (and parent and physical therapist and athletic trainer, etc) all dedicated to helping you to heal and recover from injury as quickly and as safely as possible.