As promised, this week I will be talking a bit about inflammation and what to eat to speed up the healing process once this happens. The inflammation I focused my research on is known as chronic soft tissue inflammation. As this is a blog dedicated to action watersports, the information you are about to read is meant to be for ailments directly related to swimming, surfing, and chronic soft tissue injury treatment.
The inevitability of wear and tear…
There are other forms of CSTI in every sport imaginable. From golf to football, to baseball and bowling, and even curling. It’s a sad fact but wear and tear, age and consistent practice of any sport over a lifetime can eventually result in acquiring this condition.
And the only way to prevent it (and overcome it once you acquire it) is rest, eating right and, in more extreme cases, physiotherapy.
Please note that I am not an expert on the subject. The information I share with you here is a compilation of a couple of articles from reputable sources which briefly touch on the subject matter. It is by no means a guide you should follow to the letter. If you suffer from CSTI or any other similar condition, my suggestion is for you to consult your personal physician and get his or her expert opinion. With that been said, let’s get right into it…
What is chronic soft tissue inflammation?
Ever had a sprain? Silly question. We’ve all had them at some point in our lives. But think about it for a moment. Maybe it happened while you were running, or swimming without first warming up. Perhaps it happened during a nasty wipeout. Or, like some of the surfers that will be mentioned here, the sprain happened at one point while they were out in the water, during dawn-patrol, or a surf trip, or at their local break, and they didn’t find out about it until much later.
This is not unheard of.
The end result is always the same. It hurts like a hell and your activities, whatever they were, come to a complete stand-still for weeks at a time.
The road to recovery, in most cases, can be long and arduous. And if you don’t commit to it, you can have relapses in the most unexpected moments. Not good when competing at a swim meet or paddling out when it’s huge.
So what exactly are we exposed to when we go surfing for extended periods of time?
According to Dr. Kimo Harpstrite, an orthopedist based in Honolulu, Hawaii, and himself an avid surfer, there are three basic incidents that he regularly deals with. As you can imagine, dealing with these kinds of injuries in a place like the Hawaiian islands are a common occurrence:
- Torn rotator cuffs and ligaments are a dime a dozen in the islands. Dr. Harpstrite categorizes the most common injuries attributed to the following reasons:
- “Surfers who “dunk” their boards to get through big waves can suffer separated or dislocated shoulders when the board pops to the surface.
- Surfers are particularly vulnerable to medial collateral ligament tears, a result of pushing their weight forward on the board to gain speed.
When a wave hits them, the knee is forced inward, causing the MCL to tear,” he explains. “But because water tends to be forgiving, you don’t see many combined injuries, like ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears.”
So wait. Collateral ligament tears, anterior cruciate ligament tears? Whaat? Yeah, it’s new to me too. Easier to understand what Dr. Harpstrite is talking about with a visual aid, agreed? Here it is:
Medial Collateral Ligament injury:
I suppose deep water tends to be more forgiving. Not so with reef.
Dr. Harpstrite explains:
“In the ER, you’ll see pelvic fractures, humerus and tibia fractures, knee dislocations and things like that from surfers being slammed on the reef,” he says. “In big, heavy surf, you name it, it can happen.”
Another sure sign of wear and tear is chronic rib separation, also known as surfers rib, where the muscles located in the ribcage are pulled. This condition is mostly diagnosed in beginner surfers but veterans are can also suffer from Surfer’s Rib.
The suggested treatment for this malady is therapy, consisting of heat, massages, specific stretches, and using one of those big bouncy balls. Opinions, I found, differ on treatment, but one thing that the GPs agreed on was the importance of rest and acceptance.
The idea of “settling down” doesn’t mix well with the active crowd. Rest, even if you get restless, is essential as it gives the inflammation a chance to “cool off.”
Eating right to get upright...
Another proven way to promote CSTI treatment is eating food that is conducive to the healing process. I didn’t much believe this at first. But once I suffered my first serious injury in the water, a broken clavicle, I decided to open my mind to alternative ways to heal, other than surgically inserting steel nails and screws in my clavicle.
After while of researching options which I didn’t fully understand or agree with, I finally understood that changing my diet could greatly benefit my healing process. I also learned that western diet and lifestyle lends itself to a chronic inflammatory condition.
I started eating better. This REALLY helped with reducing inflammation and joint injuries. I was intrigued and began reading books and listening to health, fitness and nutrition podcasts. What I found resulted in a fundamental shift in my eating and nutrition habits.
See, generally, when you start eating better you tend to eat more alkaline foods (vegetables and less sugar, white flour, and other processed foods). This will increase your yin which is essentially “cooling energy”, making you less prone to inflammatory conditions.
According to Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health:
“Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects. Some of the foods that have been associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease are also associated with excess inflammation”.
Dr. Hu further adds:
“It’s not surprising since inflammation is an important underlying mechanism for the development of these diseases. Some of the food components or ingredients may have independent effects on inflammation over and above increased caloric intake”
So which foods should or shouldn’t we be eating?
• Olive oil
• Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
• Nuts like almonds and walnuts
• Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines
• Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
• Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries
• French fries and other fried foods
• Soda and other sugar-sweetened foods
• Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
• Margarine, shortening, and lard
• Sweets, candy, cookies, etc.
Dr. Hu concludes with the following recommendation:
“To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet. If you’re looking for an eating plan that closely follows the
tenets of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils. In addition to lowering inflammation, a more natural, less processed diet can have noticeable effects on your physical and emotional health. A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases but also for improving mood and overall quality of life”.
Expectations and realities…
I think people expect their bodies to heal quickly.
This is normally true when the body is in good health. But what if it doesn’t heal?
What if a chronic condition is a result of that injury?
I know this can happen first hand. I have lower back lumbar pain and, out of nowhere, I have tweaked my lower back on three occasions. It’s painful and very frustrating. Rest, good eating (and meds) normally take care of it.
Having a chronic condition (one that comes back every so often when you least expect it) is a good sign that something is not right with your body. You then turn to diet, personal habits and, amazingly, sleeping patterns too, to find answers.
Diet is fundamental to your healing process.
Dismissing it will only lead you to a long road of pain and frustration. I used to think that I would surf well into my 50s and beyond. I found that, even though I am pretty healthy for my age, wear and tear are inevitable.
Practice and enjoyment of the action water sports we love so much can lead to injuries. By the extreme nature of our sport, these injuries are prone to happen more often and can be more painful, have much longer healing periods and can have much more serious consequences than when we were, say, 20 years old. Since then I have accepted that, as far as surfing is concerned, my activity has become substantially less extreme.
And that’s perfectly fine by me.
Time to try skydiving! (HA! Just kidding!)
Thank you for reading my article! As always, if you have found this information useful, please share it with someone you know who may also find it useful. Have an incredible week and be careful in the water!