Unfortunately, muscle injury can happen to anybody at any time. It doesn’t matter whether you are a world class professional athlete or somebody who counts taking the stairs as their only exercise, an injury can easily occur. If the worst should happen and you are suffering from a muscle injury, there are a few remedies to help speed up the recovery process. Sleep is a major aid when looking to recuperate, so we’ve looked at how to mend your ailments through rest and get you back in the game in no time.
What are minor muscle injuries?
Before getting better, it helps to understand what your injury is. A minor muscle injury usually consists of a muscle pull, strain or tear. This occurs in the muscle fibres or in tendons, and can damage small blood vessels, which causes local bleeding, bruising and irritating pain to nerve endings in the damaged area.
Unfortunately, these injuries can easily occur during any form of physical task such as sudden heavy lifting, exercise or sports, and performing certain tasks during work. The causes of minor muscle injury include anything from overreaching, suddenly changing direction or speed, falling or landing awkwardly, or colliding with a person or object. Needless to say, none of these are pleasant and any shock to the body is a risk.
If your body does suffer a physical shock, signs of an injury include swelling, bruising or redness, pain when resting or moving the affected muscle or joint, weakness of the muscle or tendon, or even the inability to use the muscle at all. Obviously the worse the pain, the more severe the injury, and if the pain is unbearable you should consult a GP as soon as possible.
The importance of sleep and injury recovery
However, do not fret! These injuries are usually easily treatable, especially with plenty of rest. Because the injury would have been caused by overreaching, lifting too much weight or moving awkwardly, then letting it relax and heal in its own time will help. So use this as a welcome excuse for a duvet day, which will help avoid further damage to the injured area and accelerate healing.
If the injury takes more than a few weeks to clear up, then you may have damaged a significant portion of muscle fibres or there might be damage to ligaments or joints. Hopefully it isn’t that serious, and rest will help you recover quicker by preventing further strain.
Why does sleep help heal injuries?
The reason sleep and muscle recovery are connected, and why sleep is helpful during the recovery process, comes down to growth hormones and blood flow. Growth hormones evidently stimulate growth, while aiding cell reproduction, cell regeneration and regulation of your body’s metabolism to literally repair you while you snooze.
When asleep, your general energy consumption is lowered as, most of the time, your body and brain is at rest. This means more energy can be used to restore your bones and muscles, both through an increase in growth hormone production, and by an increase in blood flow to the area in need. For example in deep sleep, around 40% of the usual blood flow to the brain is sent instead to the muscles to help restore energy. The hormones Prolactin is also released during deep sleep, which has anti-inflammatory properties to help further recover any achy joints.
To find out more about how your body recovers overnight, see our interactive graphic ‘What Happens To Your Body During 8 Hours Of Sleep’.
Preventing further muscle injury
Whether you are wanting to avoid injury in the first place, or have recovered and want to prevent future injury, then you should stretch daily, stick to an exercise program, stretch after exercise and establish a trusty warm-up routine.
If you are concerned that the muscle injury might be more serious, you should consult a GP or get in touch with a physiotherapist, who can assess your injury and provide you with a treatment including exercises which will promote effective recovery. A physiotherapist will also help you get back into your normal routine, whether you are a top athlete or just wanting to get back to your daily life.
The Sleep Matters Club have talked to athletes Victoria Pendleton (Olympic Gold Medallist) and Joe Root (England International Cricketer) to find out just how important sleep is for training and recovery. Watch the Victoria Pendleton interview here and the Joe Root interview here.