A Trend in Sports Recovery for the CrossFit® Community?
Just as in many sports and activities, CrossFit® is physically demanding on the body. There is no denying that and that doesn’t make it right or wrong, it’s just a fact as it is in many sports and challenging activities. That’s why we do it. That’s why we gain so much satisfaction out of it. Physical challenges to the body have so many positive aspects.
With that being said, just like in any other sport or activity, once you decide to join CrossFit® or any high demand activity, you need to understand that body preparation, self-care, treatment, and sports recovery modalities are vital in maintaining health and performance.
We can all agree that CrossFit® would be considered “overwork” to the body. That’s the whole point. Stress the body and watch the body make adaptive changes such as strength, power, conditioning, aesthetics, etc. However, with this stress and overwork to the body, there are potential ramifications if not careful. Dr. Michael Leahy who developed Active Release Techniques® has done a great job in depicting how over-use injuries occur with this diagram representing The Cumulative (Repetitive) Injury Cycle.
In Overwork situations such as Fitness, Sport and even things like sitting too much, your body will develop muscular imbalances. Some muscles will tend to become tight, and others will tend to become weak. The glutes tend to become weak. The hamstrings tend to become tight. Abdominals weak. Calves tight. So on and so forth.
The tightness and weakness then develops friction, pressure and/or tension in the area and leads to a decreased circulation or hypoxic state (lack of oxygen due to lack of optimal blood flow). Once this hypoxic state occurs, you end up with scar tissues and adhesions in the muscle, ligaments, and/or tendons. This, in turn feeds the muscular imbalance even further. The Cumulative Injury Cycle then keeps on turning and turning–lying dormant until finally, the body sounds the alarm system, which is pain! Now we have an injury.
Below I am going to break down each aspect of the Cumulative Injury Cycle, then I will reveal how certain Sports Recovery aspects can help reduce this cycle and aid in injury prevention and optimal recovery.
Weak & Tight Muscles
Repetitive effort makes the muscles tighten. When a muscle is overly tight it also tends to become short. When a muscle is weak it tends to become tense. If certain muscles become tight, then the antagonist muscles may become weakened. For instance, tight hip flexors can lead to weakened Glutes. Tight Low back can lead to weakened abdominals. This phenomena is call Reciprocal Inhibition. This furthers the muscle imbalance issues in the body.
Friction – Pressure – Tension
As a result of weak and tight tissues, the internal forces acting on the tissues rise. Friction, pressure, or tension are examples of internal forces, and can all be present individually, or all at the same time. A couple examples of this are the tension you get in your Upper Trapezius or the friction an IT Band causes at the lateral knee, which cause an inflammatory response and pain. If one or more of these factors is high enough, an acute injury and inflammation can result even without outside forces being applied.
The effect of increased forces on the tissues is to decrease circulation. If pressure is applied over one of the low pressure lymphatic channels the result is swelling. Outside forces in the form of constant pressure may also have the effect of decreasing circulation or causing swelling.
Adhesions – Scar Tissue
Cellular hypoxia (lack of oxygen) from restricted circulation causes adhesions and scar tissue to occur in and between muscles.
Result: Repetitive Strain Injury
The cumulative-injury cycle is self-perpetuating. It worsens the symptoms and syndromes of cumulative- trauma disorders with a downward-spiral effect. The result is pain, decreased recovery times and/or altered biomechanics of the body.
Typically if we are suffering from the effects of this cycle and do indeed have an injury and an inflammatory state, some sort of treatment is instrumental in alleviating that pain. Once the pain levels subside (or during treatment to achieve pain relief), we can target the muscular imbalances through strategic corrective exercises and movement pattern correction. In addition, we can do manual therapy techniques to address the scar tissue/adhesions. By applying manual therapy techniques, you will not only address the scar tissue/adhesions, but also restore blood flow and oxygen to the area which is vital to healing any tissues in the body. Once that occurs, you will relieve much of the pressure, friction and tension to the muscle, tendon and/or ligaments. So, by combining the manual therapy with corrective exercises, you can restore the body to the pre-injury cycle status.
Well, what if I am not injured, but I want to prevent this cycle from exacerbating itself into pain you ask? Preventative measures can’t be stressed enough. CrossFitters are great at doing body work and other self-care work to improve muscular balance, function, motor control and tissue quality. CrossFitters are always looking for the next best thing to improve performance, prevent pain, and enhance recovery.
In my experience, the one piece of the puzzle that CrossFitters, along with many other athletes, has been optimal Recovery from their sport. What am I referring to when I say “Recovery”? My use of the word for the purposes of this discussion, and in our Sports Recovery Center in Boca Raton is the ability of the body to return to full function and homeostasis after hard training or competition. When the body is not recovered you may suffer from loss of performance in key aspects such as endurance, movement control, strength, power, and proprioception. A decrease in these factors will not only decrease your overall performance, but may also lead to increased over-use strain to the body.
The term Sports Recovery can be very general, and there are many faces to Sports Recovery. In our facility, we have many CrossFitters who come in for treatment for recovery from an injury. However, in our facility we also have a Sports Recovery Center, and these modalities are mainly geared towards athletes who are not suffering from injury or pain per se, but are looking to improve their recovery times in between training sessions and competitions; Or to prepare the body for competition. Many of our CrossFitters are using Whole Body Cryotherapy, Recovery Boots and Hyperbaric Chamber for their recovery needs. Other aspects of Sports Recovery may include massage therapy, deep tissue laser, Active Release Techniques®, foam rolling, etc.
Why do I like the trio of the Whole Body Cryotherapy, Hyperbaric Chamber, and NormaTec Recovery Boots for CrossFitters? Simply put, it does the best job in targeting what I find to be the biggest recovery issues and also repetitive injury causes. That is the decreased circulation/swelling aspect/Hypoxic state that occurs in the body when Overwork causes muscular imbalances. Lack of oxygen and blood flow in the body is the biggest hindrance in recovery and injury prevention in my opinion. We can argue how the body gets to this state, such as poor Biomechanics, past injury, bad form, etc., but restoring properly enriched blood flow to the tissues is instrumental in healing and recovery.
Whole Body Cryotherapy
Whole Body Cryotherapy can help professional and recreational athletes help their bodies be at peak performance, recover more quickly from intense training and break the cycle of nagging chronic injuries. The whole body lower temperatures that occur in the cryosauna helps enrich the blood and supply it to all internal organs and peripheral muscles in the body. It does this by the body’s natural reaction to extreme cold environments to shunt the blood from the extremities into the vital organs and core of the body. Once you get out of the cryosauna, the blood that is now freshly enriched by the vital organs hyper-profuse the extremities. See MMA Star Anthony Johnson using WBC
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy delivers oxygen to tissues up to 25 times normal levels. This stimulates the production of body stem cells, decreases swelling and inflammation, promotes regeneration of injured tissues, and increases healing rates. In our office, we do not use the Oxygen Concentrator with pumps pure O2 into the chamber. That needs to be in a more controlled, medical environment to do to the effects of pure O2. See Pro Boxer Wes Nofire discuss Hyperbaric Therapy.
NormaTec Recovery Boots
The removal of waste products may help to reduce injury risk and the phenomenon of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Recovery boots provide benefit in terms of abating performance reduction following high intensity exercise and reduces soreness shortly after exercise as well as 48 hours later.
I wanted to spotlight the above few aspects of our Sports Recovery Center, but as I had mentioned previously, there are many faces to Sports Recovery. You can experiment and choose which sports recovery options are best for you. We even have developed The Sports Recovery Audit™ to help our athletes and others choose their best path to recovery. To reiterate, the main differentiation from treatment of pain/injury from Sports Recovery, is that our goal is to decrease recovery times, reduce injury risk and improve performance. As for the purpose of this article, we are not examining, diagnosing and treating conditions. Don’t get me wrong, we have had many athletes use our Sports Recovery Center to aid them in reducing their pain, inflammation and over-use strain injury, as well as a great treatment plan to decrease recovery time, reduce injury risk and improve performance. But again, every athlete has different needs and having different options is serving the athlete best. We always recommend aligning yourself with a great manual therapist, chiropractor or physical therapist. If you have any questions pertaining to Sports Recovery modalities, please email me at drchristiewww.healthfitchiro.com.