I’ve been a doctor for over forty years, a general practitioner and medical broadcaster on UK TV and radio for much of that time. I’ve treated many thousands of patients and one thing that stands out it is how much there is that people can do to aid their own recovery. This is particularly true when it comes to getting well following injury in an accident.
Mending after an injury isn’t just about the physical recuperation – it’s about bouncing back mentally too. Whether a person is hurt in a road traffic accident, at work or in a slip or fall, how they then react to the aftermath has a direct bearing upon the speed and extent of their recovery.
If you’ve been injured and are worrying about how you can best get things back to how they were before your accident, here are things you can do every day that will assist your return to health.
With soft tissue injuries, bone fractures and breaks, chances are that you’ll have been prescribed a course of treatment or physiotherapy as an out-patient. It’s a good idea to talk to your medical professional about what you can also do outside of the treatment room. Gentle exercise is key to recovery. For example, a broken limb can mean weeks in a cast – and muscle-wastage. Whiplash in a car crash can be really painful – but keeping damaged ligaments moving is the best way to mend. It could mean something as simple as taking a regular walk or a simple routine of exercises that you can easily do for a few minutes a day at home or at work.
Don’t forget your diet
Giving your body the best chance to heal starts with what you put in it. Poor nutritional content in your food will slow up recovery while eating well will positively help you heal after surgery, fractures, breaks, burns and other injuries. Protein, for instance, keeps your immune system strong. Eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese and chicken are protein rich and will help knit damaged bones and build muscle. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, think about high protein, soy-based foods like edamame beans, miso, tofu, soymilk and soy sauce. Don’t forget the meat substitute mycoproteins you can buy in any supermarket: they make a great Bolognese!
The vitamin C you find in most fruits and foods – like baked potatoes, broccoli and peppers – helps produce the collagen your body needs to mend ligaments, tendons and surgical wounds. Zinc does this too – you’ll find it aplenty in things like cereals, nuts, seeds and whole-grain bread, as well as meat, fish, poultry and dairy. Vitamin D and calcium are important for bone health – milk and fortified soy milk are good choices, as is yoghurt with added vitamin D (check the label). Fibre foods like whole grains, fruit (especially prunes and prune juice), vegetables, seeds and nuts help ease the constipation that pain medication can sometimes cause. Lastly, remember to drink plenty of water.
Make sleep a priority
You’ll be healing while you sleep so make sure you get plenty of it if you can – and at the right time. Because your energy consumption is so low – like a TV on standby – it’s re-directed to growth hormone production, increased blood flow to damaged areas and to the muscles. Sleeping also releases a hormone called prolactin that is a natural anti-inflammatory. A benefit of eating the right foods to heal is that you’ll sleep better too, making good diet and sound sleep a virtuous circle for your recovery.
Talk about how you’re feeling
There’s an aspect to injury that often gets overlooked – and that’s the impact on your mental health. It doesn’t affect everyone – and often depends on the severity of injury – but for those it does affect, symptoms can range from anxiety and low mood to nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression. I have been closely involved in a revealing research project that shows just how prevalent psychological impacts are following an accident. For instance, 72% of over 1,000 people surveyed said they struggled with mental health issues, 65% felt they hadn’t received all the help they felt they needed and 63% said it took longer to recover than they expected. It’s natural to feel mentally upset after a traumatic accident. Equally it’s always OK to talk about it with friends and family – and seek professional help if you feel you need it.
Finally … use your recovery time productively
You may find yourself laid up for a while, perhaps even off-work. Use the time wisely and get yourself into a productive routine – perhaps pick off some of the tasks you’ve wanted to do but put on the back-burner through lack of time. A routine is important while you recover: it keeps the mind active, gives you things to focus on and helps prevent you dwelling on things in a negative way.
Your body has an amazing ability to heal itself, but it does so at its own pace. The best thing you can do after an accident is treat body and mind well. The right blend of exercise, diet, sleep, mental support and keeping busy (if you can) will go a long way to speeding your recovery.