Are Your Injuries a Result of Chronic Stress?
The one thing that so often prevents an athlete from reaching their next level of performance is an injury. Yet, many athletes are constantly injured season after season. Many more seem to be nursing that bum knee or weak ankle. Healing an injury 100% involves a lot more than exercise rehab and anti-inflammatory drugs. Making sure all injuries stay at bay is a stress level and nutrition matter.
You do not just wake up one day with a sore knee or neck, and you do not “catch” ITB syndrome or pull a hamstring one day while running because you just overdid it on that particular day. Chronic stress, for the most part, leads to these injuries.
Whether from overtraining, lack of sleep, ingestion of too much caffeine or refined sugar, or an emotionally unstable job or relationship, leads to hormonal imbalances. The hormone cortisol increases as a result. This decreases tissue insulin sensitivity – a phenomenon termed “insulin resistance.” It is very important because it leads to decreased absorption of glucose into the body’s cells. When glucose doesn’t enter the cells, not only is energy production impaired, but joints ultimately cannot be repaired.
Usually far before an injury is evident, there are many little nagging symptoms present – maybe a stiff neck, a sore shoulder while swimming, a twitching muscle while running, or a spasm in a glutes muscle on the bike. Most importantly, because the cells are starving for sugar that is sitting right outside the doorway in the bloodstream waiting to be let in, you CRAVE SUGAR. You may crave it throughout most of day, and especially right after a workout or after a meal. You may be irritable and moody from the roller coaster blood sugar levels.
Over time, your muscles may start to spasm or cramp up. They may also experience what some physicians describe as “restless leg syndrome” because no one really knows exactly what causes the legs to ache so deeply at night. This is very commonly due to a deficiency of magnesium or zinc, needed to activate the glucose once inside the cell.
The Stress of Life
And the stress of training. You may be eating a lot of carbs and still not getting the glucose into your tissues, or you may not be eating many carbs at all and have plenty of glucose in your tissues. It is not the amount, but the stress level. Again, high stress = high cortisol = decreased glucose absorption = inability to make glucosamine = an injured athlete, one soon to be injured, or one unable to fix their injury.
Not only does the vicious cycle of stress need to be broken so the proper chemical processes can take place, but the vicious cycle of joint damage must be stopped. The injury that causes inflammation, pain, and muscle imbalances lead to altered joint mechanics, which ultimately leads to further joint damage.
This causes a person to want to take more NSAIDs and/or increases their emotional stress level, as well as physical stress. This can lead to impaired digestion, (decreased glucose absorption), and an unhealthy diet to make up for a depressed mood, (the person craves more refined sugars). The excess chemical and emotional stress, added to the injury’s physical stress and drug use, further inhibit joint repair, resulting in more tissue damage, inflammation, and pain. Round and round it goes. So take a step back. Assess the situation. Think it through. Break the cycle, and set a new PR.