Injury Recovery and the M.E.A.T. Method
What’s the best way to recovery from a muscular injury?
In my last blog post, I talked about recovering after a hard workout. In this post, I’m going to discuss what you can do to recover from a grade 1 athletic injury. Injury recovery can be a challenging process, but I’m here to give you the most effective way to deal with an athletic injury.
This blog post goes hand-in-hand with my BEST EXERCISES to Fix a Sprained Ankle video—be sure to check it out!
It’s time to discuss the type of recovery we all hope that we never have to do: recovery from an injury. Injuries are never fun. They are something we all hope we never go through. But sooner or later it happens to the best of us!
Whether it’s pushing too hard in the gym, rolling an ankle while hiking, or even a
gradual injury from repetitive movements—chances are that you will experience an athletic injury sometime during your life. And the results of an injury can be debilitating. Pain, compensation patterns, a reduced range of motion, loss of strength—it’s always a challenge to adapt and recover.
Injury recovery is often a long process. Our bodies already need time and energy to regenerate and repair from our everyday activities. But when we are injured, our bodies must now go into overdrive to repair and rebuild whatever is injured. Our bodies are good at healing themselves, but we can take measures to support the injury recovery process. By taking the right approach, we can come back from an injury faster and stronger.
R.I.C.E. versus M.E.A.T.
Now I’m sure we’ve all heard of R.I.C.E.: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
It was the go-to for acute injuries for decades but, we now know that it’s not the optimal approach.
Modern research and studies have shown that M.E.A.T. is the way to go. M.E.A.T. stands for Movement, Exercise, Analgesic, and Taping. This method is much more effective for dealing with something like a sprained ankle.
Active or Passive Recovery?
The key difference between R.I.C.E. and M.E.A.T. is active vs. passive recovery. While R.I.C.E. focuses on resting and remaining static, M.E.A.T. focuses on keeping the body doing what it’s designed to do: move. M.E.A.T. is most effective at dealing with injuries where the muscle(s) has been over-stretched and strained. This type of injury causes mild damage to muscle fibers (such as a grade 1 ankle sprain—see my Sprained Ankle recovery video here).
By being proactive you can help reduce recovery time and prevent future injury. My goal is to help with that process. I’m here to show how you can be active in your recovery to improve recovery time while maintaining strength. The following techniques can help you get back to 100% both quickly and safely, using movement as medicine.
First, we must address the injury to heal ourselves. Second, we must look at what caused the injury in the first place. Was it a cruel twist of fate? Or is there something wrong with how we are moving? Was there a muscle imbalance? Was our form incorrect? Is our posture FUBAR? Healing from an injury is all well and good, but if we don’t correct the root cause of the injury, it opens the door to future injuries. We must address how we move to make sure that we can stay injury-free.
NOTE: The method of recovery you use depends on the type and severity of the injury. Always consult your doctor before starting any treatment or recovery protocol.
Using M.E.A.T. for Injury Recovery
Micro-Movements and Exercise
Maintaining pre-injury strength
It is a normal tendency to want to remain still, rest, and prevent stressing your muscles and joints following an injury. After all, the R.I.C.E. method has been the go-to for decards. While there are some injuries where rest is the way to go, it isn’t optimal for all injuries.
Research has shown that movement 3-5 days after the initial injury can help you recover faster and stronger. According to a study published in 2009, loading the tissues in an injured joint or muscle initiates a cellular response called mechanotransduction. Mechanotransduction is a process the body uses to convert mechanical stimulus (such as movement after an injury) into electrochemical activity. As published in “Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science” in 2014, this process is an “essential regulator of cell biological processes including cell survival, cell migration, mitosis, and differentiation.” It’s the process that tells the body to increase bone density and muscle size when you work out. This is very important when recovering from an injury. With an active approach to recovery, it’s the process that helps maintain strength while recovering.
A similar study published in 2007 also showed that exercise after a muscular injury improves recovery. It positively affects the cellular healing and repair of injured tissues.
When using R.I.C.E to recover from an injury, the injured tissues can remain in a weakened state leaving them prone to re-injury. By using M.E.A.T., we can help avoid that. With micro-movements and exercise, injured tissues are able to recover faster and stronger.
Athletic Massage for Injury Recovery
Athletic massage (such as the techniques we offer 🙂 ) can also be effective for dealing with an injury. While the movements your body is making during a massage are initiated by the massage therapist and not your body, it’s movement nonetheless. Massage can lengthen, shorten, and manipulate your muscles and fibers in specific ways that aren’t achievable by moving on your own. It helps promote the healing process inside our bodies. Athletic massage can also enhance the exercises and movements you are doing as part of your recovery. It manipulates your body to promote balance, reduce pain, and improve stability, thus improving recovery.
Managing Pain and Inflammation
After an injury, the body’s first line response to promote healing is to create inflammation. The body rushes fluids and nutrients to the injured area to make sure it has the resources it needs to deal with the problem at hand. That being said, sometimes our bodies can cause more harm than good if inflammation is out of control. Excessive inflammation can cause the lymphatic vessels to compress. These vessels are key to healing and maintaining bodily functions. When they are compressed, they can’t effectively provide oxygen and nutrients to the injured area. Analgesics are helpful to manage both pain and inflammation.
Many people often use ice or cold-packs following an injury. While ice is not an analgesic itself, it does have an analgesic effect. The cold temperature of the ice dulls pain by decreasing inflammation and slowing down pain signals to the brain. Studies have shown that if you do use ice for swelling and pain it should only be used for 24-48 hours following the initial injury. Also, remember to never apply ice or cold packs directly to the skin—instead, wrap them in a soft towel or cloth.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, can also be used. These drugs both reduce pain and limit inflammation. I prefer using a topical salve for reducing pain. A guideline published in Annals of Internal Medicine in 2020 recommends using a topical NSAID. These topical treatments often include menthol to provide a cooling sensation that helps soothe pain. They are fast-acting and can be applied locally to the injured area. I often Ambery Gardens Deep Rub or Muscle Recovery salves on myself and my clients and it works fantastic. I know, it’s technically not an analgesic, but I’ve found it works great.
Athletic taping also helps the healing process by gently lifting the skin from the tissues below. This gentle lifting reduces internal pressure to improve blood and lymphatic flow. This helps to reduce swelling/inflammation while easing the delivery of nutrients. More on taping below!
Support the body and aid injury recovery
Athletic taping is a special technique that uses tape or straps to support and promote healthy movement in our bodies. Some of the benefits of taping include:
- Management of inflammation
- Stabilizing bodily structures while still allowing for micro-movements (movement is key to recovery!)
- Pain reduction and management
- Stronger injury recovery, less prone to re-injury
Taping is akin to giving yourself a localized exoskeleton. It can stabilize and support your body while still allowing for micro-movements. There are many different types of tape and taping techniques. Micro-movements are gentle, small ranges of motion you do for short periods of time. If you are in pain, doing micro-movements can help release stiffness and retrain your motor control in a non-painful way. Some techniques can be done at home, but you will get the most benefit when you are taped by a professional. There are specific techniques for many types of injuries. This includes strains, sprains, plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, bursitis, spasms, and joint instabilities.
It’s best to apply the tape around 24 hours after the injury occurs, by a professional. While early taping is best, some taping can have benefits even months after an injury, such as supporting and stabilizing the injured area.
When athletic tape is applied (correctly) onto the skin over the injured area, the tape activates special nerve endings in our skin. These nerve endings send signals to our brain to detect motion and joint position. When these signals reach the spinal cord, they can actually reduce and inhibit the pain signals from the injured area. The end effect is reduced pain. This is the Gate Control Theory of pain control. The nerve signals initiated by the tape on the skin “closes the gate” on pain signals. Taping can help significantly reduce pain to aid in your recovery.
Dealing With Injury Recovery
While there are many different ways to recover from an injury, it’s important to know which one is most effective for the type of injury you are dealing with. Hopefully, this blog post has given you some insight on how to get back to 100% faster and stronger.
If you’re injured and don’t know where to start, schedule a FREE consultation with one of our corrective exercise specialists. If traditional methods are not getting you the results you need, we can help! We can help you not only get you moving but stay moving for the long haul.
If you need help with your recovery, we can help! Our ELDOA exercise and SOMA training programs are perfect for maintaining your athletic performance and recovering faster. Check out our home training programs here. If you want a free consultation, let us know! Click the “FREE SESSION” button below to schedule a session.
Check out our amazing ELDOA & SOMA home training programs to bring your fitness to the next level. Our programs are perfect for those who want to go a step further to get rid of pain and improve their performance. Click below for a FREE session!