Why Your Injuries Aren’t Healing Properly

injuryOveruse injuries are something I see in my practice on an almost daily basis.  Whether it’s low back pain from running, shoulder pain from lifting weights, or neck pain from being in the wrong position for too long, most of us have experienced an issue related to muscle pain.  Most of us have been told what to do when it comes to dealing with the immediate trauma-rest, ice, compression, elevation, etc.  But what about the majority of you who aren’t getting relief weeks, months, or sometimes years after the initial trauma?

What I’m finding is that the typical approach to soft tissue injuries (muscles, tendons, ligaments) is actually leading to further damage, and a long-term weakening of tissue.  Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections, the mainstay of treatment in conventional medicine, can help with short-term pain relief, but is rarely conducive to proper healing.  The whole point of the inflammatory response is to facilitate collagen repair, allowing tissue to fully heal, restoring it’s function back to normal.  Instead, our mainstream approaches to soft tissue healing are more degenerative in nature, setting people up for future pain and injuries.  So, what are the alternatives?

Acupuncture-While some people are afraid of it, acupuncture is actually one of the only therapies I know of that addresses pretty much every component of soft tissue healing.  Acupuncture not only works to diminish the perception of pain, but actually stimulates collagen repair through the release of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF).  It also acts upon receptors in the central nervous system to create a sense of euphoria that will ultimately make people less prone to the psychological manifestation of chronic pain.

Proteolytic Enzymes-It’s possible that you’ve been told to eat pineapple after a dental surgery or procedure?  This is often due to the fact that pineapple is naturally high in bromelain.  Bromelain is one of several proteolytic enzymes that falls into the category of fibrinolytic agents.  Like nattokinase, serrapeptase, and other fibrinolytic agents, bromelain helps to speed up the healing response in areas of injury, getting rid of pain and swelling more quickly, all the while not interfering with the repair process.

Manganese-This trace mineral is extremely important in the tissue repair process.  Not only does it serve as an essential nutrient for laying down new collagen, but it also increases levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an antioxidant that helps to “clean up” chemicals in and around the area of injury that can lead to further tissue damage.

Herbs-There are a number of herbs out there that can help to minimize pain, without interfering with the healing response.  Some of the more commonly used examples include turmeric, ginger, and boswellia.  In addition to acting similarly to many of the commonly used NSAID drugs (without the side-effects!), these herbs also help to prevent platelet aggregation, allowing for a more rapid and complete healing response.  Plus, these herbs can usually be tolerated at high doses, without the kidney, stomach, and liver damage that can come with conventional anti-inflammatory and pain medications.

This list is by no means exhaustive, just a small sample of what can be done to both alleviate pain AND keep you from needing to revisit your doctor every few months with a recurring injury!  If you’ve been struggling with pain or a chronic injury, and felt like you had exhausted your treatment options, just know that there are other options out there for you to try that could be much more beneficial in the long run (literally)!


Your Health and the Environment

chemicaltoxicityMost of us realize that the environment we live in isn’t exactly pristine.  From chemicals in our water supply to the ubiquitous use of plastics, we’re constantly challenging our body’s ability to handle environmental pollutants.  The incidence of chronic disease in this country has continued to grow, and most any chronic disease you can think of (diabetes, autoimmune disease, cancer, endocrine disorders, you name it!) is influenced by the chemicals that surround us.  However, when it comes to the relationship between exposure to environmental toxins and disease, conventional medicine pays little to no attention to this connection.

Let’s just consider the effects of one chemical on the body: PCBs.  The use of these industrial chemicals has been banned since the late 1970s, yet continues to show up in our soil and water supply.  According to the EPA, PCBs have been linked to cancer, reproductive disorders, immune system disorders, endocrine disease, and nervous system disorders, among others.  Now, consider this: More than 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the United States, with 2,000 new chemicals being introduced each year.  That’s pretty scary!  The point of this article is not to induce fear, but to demonstrate how serious this problem truly is, and how little conventional medicine is paying attention to it.

Many of the chronic diseases we see today, whether it be asthma, allergies, or autoimmunity, were virtually non-existent before the 1900s.  So, despite the ongoing advancement of medications to treat these diseases, why have they continued to become more prevalent?  Largely because modern medicine continues to focus almost solely on symptom management, ignoring the underlying causes of chronic disease.  Of course, it’s not practical to test every patient for every chemical under the sun.  But, by being more conscious of how chemicals can promote disease, and having a better understanding of how our bodies deal with these chemicals, we can make a significant impact on the incidence of chronic disease in this country.

I like to use the analogy of our bodies being a bucket, with toxins being the water that fills it.  At some point, our bodies’ innate abilities to metabolize these toxins hits the tipping point, and organ systems begin to break down.  This, in turn, leads to the development of a number of chronic diseases that are often considered “incurable” by the medical profession.  But, we all have metabolic pathways in place that are programmed to help the body eliminate a number of the toxins we become exposed to.  These pathways can be enhanced and nurtured with proper diet and nutrient supplementation, lessening the toxic burden, and bringing the body back to a more balanced state.  The terms detoxification and cleansing are often thrown around loosely, but there are more definitive methods of testing that can isolate dysfunctional metabolic pathways, allowing them to be corrected accordingly with the appropriate nutritional interventions.

So, if you’re suffering from chronic disease, there are a number of things you can do to help lower your toxic burden.  One way to look at it as offense vs. defense.  Your doctor may be prescribing drugs to diminish pain or other debilitating symptoms, which is the defense, but you can play offense by providing your body with adequate nutrition and substrates to help enhance your body’s ability to eliminate disease-causing toxins.

High Glycemic Index and Inflammation

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2010; 92(3): 634-43) further demonstrates the direct relationship between a high glycemic diet and inflammation. In a study involving 1490 postmenopausal women and 1245 men (baseline average age: 49 years) from a population-based cohort, women consuming a diet with the highest glycemic index (highest tertile) were found to have a 2.9-fold increased risk of inflammatory-disease related death, as compared to women in the lowest tertile of GI diet (multivariate HR=2.89). Increased intakes of foods high in refined sugars or starches and decreasing intake of vegetables other than potatoes as well as cereals and breads was also independently associated with a greater risk. The authors conclude, “These data provide new epidemiologic evidence of a potentially important link between GI and inflammatory disease mortality among older women.”