This post was inspired by one of my patients that I saw in clinic last week. She’s a keen running who is recovering from a foot injury. She’d been recovering well but then did a run that was a bit too long and too hilly and her foot hurt again. Her words as she walked into my room were: “But I used my foam roller immediately after the run! I don’t understand why it hurts.”
When you have an injury of any kind it means that you’ve damaged some cells in that structure. These can be bone cells, muscle cells, cartilage cells etc. depending on what structure you’ve injured.
Three things have to happen for your injury to heal:
The damaged cells have to be cleared from the area. This takes about 3 to 5 days.
The body has to form new cells to replace the damaged cells. This starts at about day 4 post injury and can take until day 21 (that's 3 weeks) post injury.
The new cells have to mature and strengthen so that they can be as strong as or stronger than the cells that were damaged. This happens alongside step 2 but can take more than 12 weeks (that's 3 months) depending on the injury.
While foam rolling, massage and stretching are great tools to improve flexibility and decrease discomfort from tight muscles, they do not actually make your cells heal any quicker.
The body has to go through its natural healing process. If you do too much exercise too quickly, those new cells aren’t strong enough to cope with the load and will be injured again. The key to successful recovery lies in knowing when and how to start introducing activity/exercise back into your training regime.
You can read more advice on the healing process and how to structure your training to allow your body to heal in my previous blog post.