Article by Ben Greenfield
Now that I'm doing a lot of obstacle racing (see photo above, in which I'm clambering over a wall in my last Spartan race), I'm getting a fair share of scrapes, bruises, sprains, and strains – more injuries than I experienced when racing Ironman triathlon.
These bone, muscle and joint injuries aren't happening because I'm weak or unprepared, but are rather just natural consequences from shoving the human body to its limits. Living life to its full extent.
Whatever you want to call it.
I'll readily that admit some of the best tools for accelerating recovery and managing injuries can seem excessive, inconvenient or expensive. Let's face it – it can be tough to drive to the acupuncturist every week, fly to Europe for stem cell therapy, or hunt down a good therapist with a decent cold lasering device. Instead, I'm often asked about the more practical stuff and nitty-gritty details of the easy-to-implement things that I personally do on a daily basis when I need a bit of fast fixing up, accelerated recovery, or when the athletes I coach write me for quick and easy-to-implement solutions after they've tweaked an ankle, knee or hip.
So rather than giving you a big, intimidating list of a few dozen things to do when you're injured, here instead are four simple, practical and natural ways I fix my joints, bones and injuries fast (without drugs and surgery).
1. Hot-Cold Contrast
OK, quick confession: I actually now have an endless swimming pool called an “AquaFitness” pool at my house. I keep it next to a hot tub. Both are non-chlorinated and are instead kept clean with an ozone filter and ClearChoice Enzymes.
I keep the pool at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the hot tub at 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once per week, no matter what, I do a hot-cold contrast session in which I swim, tread or move in the cold water for 8 minutes, soak in the hot tub for 2 minutes, then repeat for a total of 30 minutes. To enhance blood flow and decrease inflammation, I'll do this protocol as often as every day if I'm injured or if I'm tapering for a race.
This is just one example of what is called a “hot-cold contrast session”. This therapy has several physiological effects that can enhance recovery, including reflexive vasoconstriction to cold followed by vasodilation from heat (blood vessel “pumping”), slowing of nerve conduction velocity (which decreases pain and muscle spasming/guarding), decreased firing of the muscle spindles (which can reduce the stiffness that occurs when injured) and increased flow of inflammatory byproducts out of muscle tissue, which is especially useful in acute inflammation stages in which swelling can cause pain and discomfort.
What are some other examples of hot-cold contrast that you can implement?
-Take a 5-minute shower with 20 seconds cold, 10 seconds hot, 10 times through.
-Go to the gym and sit in the sauna for 5-10 minutes, then jump into a cold shower for 2 minutes, and do rounds for 20-30 minutes.
-Take a 20-minute hot magnesium salts bath, then follow it up with a 5 minute icy cold shower.
Want something slightly more complex? Here's one that I assigned to one of my athletes last week. He called it the “Killer Cold Pool Protocol”, and it involves 10 minutes of cold pool immersion (use an underwater .mp3 player if you get bored) and then a transition into a hot sauna for 10 minutes of yoga “sun salutations”, followed by going back into cold pool for 10 minutes, and so on, with a goal of completing 3 rounds for a total of 60 minutes.
Afterwards, he said: “Wasn't as bad as I thought, after the first 60 secs or so. By the 3rd “set”, I waded right in and was no issue. Amazing how much of this is psychological. Felt like a fu&%#*g beast afterward. Haven't felt like that in a long time.”
2. Deep Tissue Work
So here's the deal: I've written many times before about the benefits of foam rolling and deep tissue work, and extolled the virtues of books like “Becoming A Supple Leopard” and “Ready To Run” (both by Dr. Kelly Starrett) as the best resources to learn how to do deep tissue work the right way.
But once again, this particular article you're reading now is about the practical application of deep tissue work, and exactly what I do in my own program, so here you go:
-Every Tuesday and every Friday I do a full body foam rolling session that takes about 20 minutes, starting with my low back and progressing to upper shoulders, neck, under armpits, chest, hips, hamstrings, calves, quadriceps, IT band (outside of thighs) and adductors (inside of thighs). By the time I finish, I am usually dripping with sweat, and I count this rolling session as “workout time”. I use something called a Rumble Roller, which has ridges in it that help dig into muscle tissue. See, the #1 problem I observe in the athletes I advise is that they initially think foam rolling involves about 2 minutes of messing around with a foam roller. This doesn't count. It's just foreplay. Instead, you need dedicated, scheduled and planned sessions of rolling around on the floor and making sweet love to your foam roller as you grunt, twist and grind.
-Every day before breakfast, I use a tiny little ball with ridges in it (called a “Beastie Ball” and made by the same folks who make the Rumble Roller). I roll each foot for about one minute, and then roll the outside of each hip for about one minute. Why these sections? I know from experience that the bottom of my feet and the outside of my hips are the two areas of my body that get the tightest when I'm in training, so I prioritize hitting those every day, and it makes a night and day difference.
-Once per month, I do a 60-90 minute full body massage or full body foam rolling session. Make it deep, make it hard, make it hurt so good.
If you can just start doing those three pieces of deep tissue work, you're going notice your body change in – drumroll please – 9-12 months. Yep, you heard me right. Get committed. Just like muscle gain, fat loss, getting to the extreme edge of cardiovascular fitness, and any other beneficial positive change, it takes patience to change your body, and it takes that long for your fascia, ligaments and tendons to begin to adapt and become more mobile.
3. Topical Treatments
Truth be told, about once a week some beauty or healthcare product company sends me some fancy bottle of some new magical potion or lotion that is supposed to instantly make soreness and injuries vanish.
Not only do many of these creams, lotions, and topical treatments contain unhealthy active ingredients, but most of them simply don't really seem to work for me at all.
So when it comes to topical treatments for muscle soreness and injuries, what does actually work?
-Every day, post-workout, I step out of my cold shower, completely dry my body, and then apply transdermal magnesium lotion (not spray) to any major muscles I've worked. I rub it in for about 30 seconds. Compared to magnesium spray, magnesium lotion absorbs much better and doesn't leave me with a dry, scratchy or itchy feeling, or any white residue. The magnesium relaxes muscles and creates “tissue saturation”, which allows the mineral to travel to the body’s tissues and cells at a high dose without losses through the gastrointestinal tract.
-If I have a muscle that has been strained, sprained or seems to be in a constant state of spasm or guarding, or a sore joint, I apply topical frankincense oil. Yes, frankincense, just like they brought little baby Jesus. The stuff works.
Incidentally, if you really need to amplify delivery of magnesium or frankincense into your muscle tissue, here's a tip I learned last month from Dr. Jeff Spencer as I was interviewing him for my REV conference: if you happen to have an electrostimulation device you can slap it on over whatever topical treatment you've just applied, wrap an ace bandage around it if that helps the electrodes to stick better, and the electrical stimulation effectively drives the topical treatment deeper into the tissue.
I think that's a pretty cool biohack, especially considering it comes straight from the guy who is responsible for ensuring Tour De France cyclists bounce back as quickly as possible between grueling stages.
Finally, we get to nutrients.
If you're into health, you've probably read about everything from glucosamine chondroitin to ginger to turmeric to tart cherry juice to proteolytic enzymes for easing joint pain, healing muscles faster, or decreasing inflammation. Heck, just head down the supplements aisle of your local health food store and pharmacy or do a search for “natural anti-inflammatories” on the internet and you'll find all these and many more often recommended.
Just like I've done with smart drugs, sleep aids, and everything else I do as a human guinea pig health blogger, I've tried them all. I've ground up ginger root by hand, I've ordered shockingly sour bottles of tart cherry extract and lemon bioflavonoids, I've scooped powdered glucosamine and chondroitin into smoothies, and I've even sent my wife back to the grocery store three times in a single month to stock our kitchen back up on turmeric…
…and most of this stuff works. A little bit here, a little bit there, and you notice some significant changes in the way your muscles feel the day after a hard workout, or how “lubed up” your joints feel after a tough season of racing.
But it also gets exhausting to throw everything and the kitchen sink into your body and to try to keep track of everything you're supposed to be taking if you're injured, you're sore or you've really beat up your body.
It'd be nice if all this stuff was somehow compressed into a single capsule.
It turns out that all this stuff now does actually exist in just ONE bone and joint healing supplement. So now I just use that single supplement for recovery. I don't take it every day, but when I'm injured, I've finished a race, or I'm really sore, I use 6 capsules in the morning and 6 capsules in the evening. The supplement is called Kion Flex, and it contains four different blends:
-Osteo-Mineral Blend: Naturally occurring minerals to assist in maintaining a proper electrolyte balance while at the same time keeping calcium dissolved in solution, preventing the calcium from depositing in your arteries and joints (this is damn important if you're using anything that has calcium in it). This blend contains Goat Milk Mineral Whey, Di-calcium Phosphate and Acetyl-L-Carnitine
-Collagen Blend: This blend contains chicken collagen type II, the principal structural protein in cartilage that provides strength, flexibility and support, along with Lutein Esters. Unlike most collagen blends, the collagen used in NatureFlex comes from chickens free of growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and insecticides. This form of collagen is a whole food concentrate that has no known side effects and provides maximum absorption.
-Flex Blend: This blend contains natural anti-inflammatory ingredients that are also known for their alkalizing effects and potent antioxidant properties, including White Willow Bark, Tart Cherry Juice, Feverfew Leaf, Valerian Root, Ginger Root, Turmeric Root (curcuma longa) Acerola Cherry and Lemon Bioflavonoids.
-Enzyme Blend: Finally, you may have heard of proteolytic enzyme supplements like Wobenzymes and Recoverease. Rather than taking those separately, those same enzymes are now actually mixed in with the blends above, and include Protease, Bromelain, Papain, Amylase, Lipase and Cellulase.
So yes, it's basically a shotgun approach.
And again, I don't recommend dumping all that stuff into your body every day unless you've got some pretty serious joint arthritic issues going on, but when you need rapid recovery from a nutritional standpoint, or you're injured and you want to pull every last nutrient trick out of the closet, this stuff works and it works fast. The stuff is made about 4 hours from my house at a local organic goat farm, and you can get bottles of it here.
So that's it. Those are my staples: hot-cold contrast, deep tissue work, topical treatments, and nutrients.
If you have questions, comments or feedback, then leave your thoughts below.
Also, if you have your own fast recovery tricks that you've found to be particularly potent, I'd love to hear about them, so feel free to share those below too. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy living life at a slightly faster pace than the rest of the general population.