How to self manage muscle strains with diet and physio exercises

29th July 2016 | Written by Louise Blanchfield

We’ve all been plagued with muscle sprains or strains to varying degrees at some time in our lives. Managing them ourselves will depend on the severity of the strain. However, regardless of how bad they are they will all respond to basic physiotherapy and dietary intervention to aid soft tissue repair.

As mentioned in a prior post, if you have actual tissue damage you will have a tender spot or area to touch. The pain will be described as actual pain and not just an ache. So it hurts with movement or pressure put on the muscle. You may even have felt something tear. In all cases, after the first 24 hours, apply ice for ten minutes wrapped in a damp tea towel to protect your skin from an ice-burn. It may sound ridiculous to wrap it in a tea towel but if you are applying ice 2-3 times a day the skin will become sensitive eventually so please do use the tea towel! You can re-apply up to 3 times a day but only for ten minutes each time. Having the ice on for longer has no more benefit so don’t sit there for 25 minutes and think you’ve done really well! If you have literally just done the injury use the ice for 5 MINUTES ONLY. This is because we only want the blood vessels to constrict to prevent excess inflammation. Normal icing of ten minutes includes the blood vessels dilating after they constrict, we want that to improve blood flow to the damaged area but we do NOT want this within the first 24 hours post injury!

You also need to stretch the damaged muscle 5 times a day. Hold the stretch for 40 seconds WITHIN pain limits. If it hurts you are re-damaging it. This is not a no pain no gain situation! The stretch is to encourage the fibres of the muscle to heal along their normal lines of pull and it’s repeated 5 times a day because it is healing all day long. A stretch here and there is not sufficient.

And most importantly…….

Move within pain limits! If you are feeling pain you are damaging it so STOP! That doesn’t mean do nothing it means if you feel pain when you run then walk or swim. Find a painfree alternative to maintain cardiovascular fitness. At the point you feel no pain you have to wait a further 7-10 days BEFORE you recommence your activity that caused it. This is because at the point the pain has gone means that the inflammation has gone, it does not mean that your muscle is completely healed. The muscle now needs to regain it’s strength and this takes at least 7-10 days. If you re-start before this time you risk re-injury as your muscle may be unable to cope with the increased activity.

So, how do we eat to improve muscle recovery and get a better quality of repair?

Well, first of all we need to eat an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce the pain and inflammation from the injury. This includes:

  • 2 portions of fruit a day – try berries, pears, apples, kiwi to increase antioxidant intake
  • 8 portions of vegetables – try sweet potatoes, squash, asparagus to increase antioxidant intake
  • Include flaxseed in diet – ground – as a source of omega 3s to aid a reduction in inflammation
  • Increase oily fish in diet – mackerel, sardines, salmon 3 times weekly to increase omega 3 intake and aid a reduction in inflammation
  • Decrease and eliminate sugar – I don’t think I need to tell anyone just how inflammatory sugar is!
  • Cook more with turmeric and ginger to help reduce inflammation – they directly act on inflammatory pathways to block them. Very natural substances which really work! You can get them in supplement form and these are much better quality than cooking spices. However, take care with ginger if you are taking anti-coagulants. Just use cooking only as high doses of ginger can interfer with blood clotting.
  • Avoid pork or pork related products – salami, chorizo, prosciutto – as they are highly inflammatory in the body
  • Cut out high fat – crisps, chocolate and desserts – as they are highly inflammatory in the body due to their high trans fat content
  • Avoid fried, BBQ food as these methods of cooking produce harmful compounds which increase the toxic load on the body and are therefore inflammatory
  • Decrease processed foods to reduce toxin load on system
  • Cut out vegetable oils – use olive oil, flaxseed oil on salads, cook with coconut oil – as vegetable oils are high in trans fats so are inflammatory in nature
  • Eat 4 brazil nuts daily – to help regulate inflammation
  • Drink green tea – it subdues the inflammatory response

Plus, we need to eat more of the building blocks that we need for soft tissue repair:

  • Eat sulphur rich foods in diet – onions, garlic, eggs – to supply building blocks needed for repair
  • Eat protein with all meals – protein is the basic essential for all repair – fish, meat, poultry, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds. Try to avoid red meat or pork products as they are inflammatory but make sure you eat protein at all 3 main meals and snacks if you have them
  • Eat magnesium rich foods – nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables to aid muscle relaxation as it heals
  • Eat vitamin C rich fruits – strawberries, kiwi, raspberries, citrus – it’s an antioxidant needed to prevent free radical damage and needed for connective tissue repair
  • Eat zinc rich foods – meat, eggs and seafood – it’s important for cell membranes and speeds up numerous cell processes
  • Eat copper rich foods – nuts, seeds, organ meats, wholegrain products – it’s needed for soft tissue to mature
  • Eat vitamin A rich foods – found in sweet potatoes, peppers, carrots, mango – it’s needed as an antioxidant and for cell formation. Avoid vitamin A found in organ meats as you can reach toxic levels with vitamin A in this form. Stick with colourful vegetables as the body converts these to vitamin A as required.

If you have any concerns or are unsure about any of these recommendations then do please contact The Food Physio for more information. If your muscle strain is severe or you think you may have ruptured a tendon then always seek medical advice. If you have any existing health conditions that eating any of these foods may exacerbate then please DO NOT eat them, again seek the appropriate advice.

If you would like to book a session for your own individualised healthy eating programme that’s devised specifically for you taking your symptoms and any medications you are on into consideration please do contact The Food Physio on or book now online.



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