Undergoing surgery whether it’s for an injury, accident, or major medical procedure is an invasive and traumatic experience for the body. Doing your best to support healing both prior to, and post-surgery speeds up healing, and reduces the risk of complications. I recently had abdominal surgery and did everything I could possibly think of to accelerate healing time. This blog will hopefully give you some ideas to speed up healing, and even if you are not recovering from surgery, there are some great ideas for increasing vitality. The below suggestions are evidenced based alternative therapies that I used to sped up my healing exponentially.
Manage Light – Sun, Blockers, & Photobiomodulation
Light has the power to quite literally fuel our cells, or it can mess up our hormones, blood sugar, increase inflammation, and disrupt circadian rhythm and sleep (kind of important for healing!) Here are our lighting tips:
Get sun as much as possible, especially in the morning. The involves letting the sun reach your eyeballs (take the sunnies off!) as research indicates morning sun activates the suprachiasmatic nucleus which regulates your circadian rhythms. Take some time through your day to sun bathe to absorb light energy and help improve blood flow, mitochondrial function, vitamin d synthesis and relaxation. When your skin starts to turn a pinkish colour, that's a good indicator of an appropriate dosage of sun exposure.
Block artificial light which is abundant in hospitals. Laying in a hospital bed staring into fluorescent lights isn’t just annoying, it’s detrimental to your health. Wear a hat, turn off lights if possible (it’s often not), and wear blue blocking glasses or prescription lenses with blue blocking filters to blunt the effects of junk light on your body.
Invest in a personal photobiomodulation (PBM) device for pain relief, reduced inflammation, faster healing, collagen synthesis, reduced scarring, better cellular health. PBM has so much research behind it for multiple conditions, and s rapidly gaining exposure with more units coming onto the marketplace. Buying your own device is cheaper, and more convenient than going to a clinic for use, and means you can use it more frequently for better results. We love the powerful FDA approved Joovv unit (over $1000 AU) and the more affordable Gembared ($299US). We have both, and I used both every day on my wounds, and rest of my body for all the reasons mentioned above. Read more about PBM and our picks for best devices
Move As Soon As Possible
Movement is crucial for health, and especially for healing. In the recovery stage, your body is rapidly laying down new tissue, sending nutrients to the damaged area, and clearing waste products (toxins, damaged tissue etc). Movement is crucial for this to happen. Take advantage of this period by introducing SMALL and SUBTLE movement into your body to lay down organised, resilient tissue, rather than chaotic tissue which is more likely to cause scar tissue, compensations, and glued up adhesions later on.
The lymphatic (waste removal) system needs movement to pump, so laying in bed all day allows waste products to stagnate, delaying healing. Movement hydrates cells and fascia, and it’s good for your brain, mood, and your emotional state to move where possible instead of staying bedridden.
Move as subtle as possible when pain is strong, it might be wriggling fingers or toes, moving your arms only, breathing into the damaged area – whatever it is, make it small and pain free, and do it as often as you remember given that you are mostly sedentary in the recovery phase. Each time you move you are presenting new information to your brain about your injury/wound, and helping the system adjust to the changes. Increasing proprioception or the ability to sense, decreases the expression of pain receptors, so movement, massage, vibration, or anything that increases the slide and glide of connective tissue will help reduce pain. Expect there to be some discomfort during and even after you have moved, but your movement should never, ever increase acute pain.
Vibration therapy is a wonderful healing tool for enhancing circulation of blood, lymph, cellular water, fascial hydration, increasing proprioception, reducing scar tissue, reducing pain and so much more. It’s perfect for introducing movement into the body, when your ability to move is limited in the early stages of healing, vibration therapy might involve vibration well away from the injured site to reduce pain and assist function and healing elsewhere in the body. The whole system is connected, so treatment anywhere in the body will benefit the injury. For example after abdominal surgery, I used a vibration pad on my legs several times a day. As healing progressed I have used a portable hand unit directly on my abdomen, on and around the scars, and as soon as it’s comfortable, I will be training on our Powerplate platforms to help place load through the scar tissue, and pelvic floor and core.
It goes without saying that a nutrient dense diet is crucial any day of the week, but especially when trying to fuel your body to repair and restore. This is a time to give your body the extra building blocks it will need to grow new tissue, heal wounds, and provide nutrients that are imperative for detoxification and cellular health.
Protein building blocks: collagen powder, bone broth, or eating meat off the bone, are all ideal to reduce inflammation and provide quality amino acids to support tissue regeneration.
Nutrient density is key – organ meats, shell fish, and seafood provide a big bang for your buck in terms of delivering high amounts of key vitamins and minerals per serving. If you can't stomach the idea of organ eats, supplement with a desiccated liver supplement.
Eat an abundance of healthy carbohydrates for energy, nutrients, gut health, fiber (let’s get those bowels moving again after the pain killers!) and for filling you up. Eat as many different coloured fiberous vegetables as possible. Opt for healthy starchy carbs like potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, instead of inflammatory, processed flour based carbs which delay healing and increase inflammation.
Antioxidant rich foods are also important to combat inflammation and oxidative stress: berries, chocolate, fruit and veg, tea, coffee, spices.
Foods To Avoid
Avoid things like alcohol, sugar, vegetable oils, and processed foods in general which will increase the burden on your body. All these compounds damage connective tissue (exactly what your body is trying to fix), destroy the gut, compromise digestion, stress the body, and delay healing. Although you might crave quick energy, the last thing your body needs is a sugar spike which will only increase your stress response, and decrease your healing and immune response.
Avoiding food altogether (fasting) is beneficial for healing, but only for certain populations. Appetite is often naturally supressed post surgery, so fasting can be easy to implement. Don’t go adding more stress to your body though if you are not a good candidate for fasting. Read more here.
Actively Upregulate Detoxification
Detoxification is not a myth. Yes our bodies perform detoxificaton every day, but inflammation, stress, nutrient deficiency, genes, toxic burden, poor gut health, and more, can compromise your ability to clear waste. During Surgery and afterwards, anaesthetic, and pharmaceutical drugs are often needed extensively, and can have a heavy toll on your body, depleting nutrients, cause gastric stress (anyone ever taken the infamous Endone?) causing cellular damage, and filling up your detoxification bucket. Non-steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs can cause more problems than they are worth so get off pain killers and anti-inflams as soon as possible. See below for our natural solutions for inflammation and pain.
Actively upregulate your detox ability with the following:
Move to increase circulation (as above)
Keep your bowels and bladder moving – the last thing you want is stagnated waste. Heavy duty pain killers cause severe constipation in many people, and the longer it is before you move your bowels, the worse you will feel, and the harder it will be. Eating quality food is often still not enough to solve this problem, so high dose vitamin C, magnesium glycinate, prune juice, botanical products like iberogast, are all great solutions to stmulate the bowels. If constipation persists, do an enema or colonic for instant relief. You should have AT LEAST one bowel movement a day.
Drink 2+ litres of water to help hydrate, detox, and reduce inflammation.
Sweat in a sauna. Sweating is challenging when injured, but it’s an important way to excrete toxins. As soon as possible (only if it’s comfortable and wounds are relatively closed over) we recommend getting into a sauna and getting a good sweat on.
Many of the below supplements have multiple actions, and abundant supporting research behind them. Healing from surgery often needs more supplemental support on top of a nutritious diet.
Pain Reduction & Anti Inflammatory Support: Curcumin (longvida or meriva forms), CBD oil, Proteolytic Enzymes, ice, heat, topical essential oils (see below)
Mitochondrial support (cellular function) CoQ10, PQQ, B vitamins, Vitamin C, NADH
Gut support is important to restore function from antibiotics and the trauma of surgery, probiotics to regulate the gut bacteria, and prebiotics to feed the gut bacteria are important.
Proteolytc Enzymes: I could, and did write a whole post on these magnificent enzymes which speed up healing, reduce scar tissue, decrease pain and inflammation, and SO much more.
Key Nutrients for skin health: A, D, E, C, biotin
To begin with, you can’t go past basic oils like coconut oil, rosehip oil, or vitamin E oil for applying around wounds (not on them) while you gently massage away from the injured site. Gentle massage is another way to introduce movement into the inflamed tissue to accelerate healing. Vitamin A and Vitamin C creams or serums are great for skin healing, but apply away from the wound until it’s fully healed. I used Vitamin E cream daily on all scars once they had closed over. This is a great, affordable brand of vitamin E cream.
Essential oils have powerful effects for pain relief, healing, and basically any ailment you can think of. I used essential oils every day on my abdomen and scars. In hospital post surgery, Nathan was applying Ice Blue, a pain relief blend, and frankincense to my feet every 20 minutes or so. I used the following 4 oils daily:
Frankincense to reduce inflammation and scarring, and improve cellular health
Lavender to calm and heal the skin, and of course improve relaxation after the trauma of surgery
On guard immune blend in hospital to avoid germs
Ice Blue roll on and cooling cream rub for pain relief, improved circulation, reduced inflammation and more. Read more about how to use essential oils for specific conditions here
The Power Of Touch
Get a massage, a hug, a kiss or anything contact from another human or animal to help you feel better, increase growth hormone, reduce pain, and increase happy hormones. When pain is intense, touch and stimulation far away from the injured site can be helpful to reduce pan. I have been using this technique for years to manage the severe pain I ended up having surgery for. For example when cramping and abdominal pain was severe, Nathan would scratch or rub my back elsewhere to activate proprioceptors away from the painful site. It’s a great distraction from pain if you have a willing helper to massage, rub or even scratch you!
The healing benefits of touch are so profound and well documented, that a part of any healing should include massage, intelligent touch or structural integration work to assist the body in accommodation new scar tissue, and reduce the likelihood of distorted movement positions or postures after surgery. Of course we most recommend structural bodywork as a subtle, relaxing and powerful touch that increases space in the body, and addresses the head to toe soft tissue relationships of connective tissue.
I wouldn’t be suggesting cold thermogenesis (ice bath, cold shower or cryotherapy) if it wasn’t comfortable post-surgery, and you hadn’t tried it before. If you have used it before, cold therapy will defiantly speed up healing, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation and pain. As soon as I was able to tolerate it, (and have a shower on my own!) I did cold flushes to tighten the skin and cause constriction of blood vessels. I also used ice on my belly to numb the pain, reduce inflammation and tolerate the intense pain without nasty pain killers.
You cannot beat time in nature for improved well being. Get into nature and into the sun and barefoot on the earth to reduce inflammation. Earthing has profound and well researched benefits, and if you can’t get outside, you can buy earthing products for use inside the home. Keep it simple, just stand barefoot on the earth where possible!
Lot's of ideas here to improve healing, and it beats sitting in bed for weeks any day of the week. The more proactive you can be around assisting your body to heal, the more empowered you will feel at a time when frustrations and emotions run hot. If you need a hand with any of the above, please don't be afraid to ask, we would love to help you in implementing more progressive healing techniques into your recovery!