Injuries don’t just happen. Injuries can often be avoided, and they may be even more preventable than you realize. Natural medicine offers ways to reduce the risk of incurring injuries, and of lessening the severity of injuries that do occur.
People will commonly take steps to minimize the external risk factors that could increase the chance of injury at home, at work and at play, and that’s a good thing. But factors within the human body itself also can play a role in determining whether an injury happens or how serious it is. A body that is healthy and fit is less prone to be harmed when exposed to physical stresses and strains.
Holistic medicine, with its emphasis on preventing health problems, naturally strives to promote the health of muscles, bones and other tissues, in part to make them more resistant to injury and more able to heal when necessary.
Properly nourishing your body allows for the growth of strong, healthy tissues that are more resistant to physical shocks and impacts. As most of us are well aware, bones require the mineral calcium to stay strong. Poor bone mineral density causes osteoporosis (literally “porous bones”), a condition which can cause a minor tumble to result in a hip fracture, or a blow to the trunk to result in broken ribs. Taking a large amount of supplemental calcium might seem to be the way to combat osteoporosis, but it’s not that simple. In fact, taking in too much calcium can cause other serious health problems.
But because the body’s ability to absorb calcium into the bones varies depending on a person’s age, gender, lifestyle and nutrition, different people need different amounts of it. Also, calcium absorption can also be reduced by certain prescription medications or exposure to certain toxins. Smoking tobacco, drinking large amounts of alcohol and exposure to the heavy metal cadmium all interfere with calcium absorption. And while exercise is generally beneficial to skeletal health, participation in endurance sports like marathons actually lowers the bone density of some female athletes.
A naturopathic doctor can advise each individual patient on the best way to maintain the health of his or her bones after observing and listening in order to learn as much as possible about the patient’s lifestyle, medical history and diet. Taking the time to listen and learn is a hallmark of naturopathic medicine; it’s the starting point for all naturopathic treatments, whether for the bones or any other part of the body.
Just as bones should be properly cared for to prevent injuries, so should the muscles that make them move. Toned muscles are better prepared to do their job and are less likely to be injured. It’s not necessary to become a bodybuilder with bulging muscles. Just performing exercises to increase flexibility and build a little “practical” strength will pay off in many ways. When muscles are able to easily bear the load of everyday chores and activities, less stress is put on tendons and ligaments, reducing the chance of injury to those connective tissues and therefore to joints like knees and shoulders. Also, having strong muscles means having more control while performing physical tasks, reducing the risk of injury from falling, stumbling into things, straining the back or even dropping a heavy object on your feet.
A healthy, balanced diet will provide your body with the raw materials it needs for muscle growth and repair. Protein is especially important for muscular health, but be sure to get your protein from sources that are low in fat – lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. For tendons and ligaments – the tissues that connect muscles to bone and bones to each other –vitamins C and E are important. Tendons and ligaments, as well as the cartilage in joints that keeps them functioning smoothly, have been found to benefit from supplements of glucosamine and chondroitin, along with the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.
Good balance is another factor in preventing injuries, especially from falls. Balance or equilibrium has been referred to as the “sixth sense.” Your body maintains balance and a sense of spatial orientation by processing sensory input from many different nerves and muscles, but structures, fluids and nerves in the inner ear are especially important. It’s essential to protect your ears from injury. Wear a helmet when playing sports such as hockey, football and baseball, or when participating in activities like bicycling and skating. Limit your exposure to very loud noises such as lawnmowers or high-decibel concerts.
Overall fitness and maintaining a healthy weight, along with their many other benefits, will also help you maintain your sense of balance. Although balance normally deteriorates with age, certain exercises can help reinforce it, and are especially recommended for people over 40. Particularly helpful are exercises that strengthen the quadriceps, the large muscles on the front of your thighs that play a big part in holding your legs steady.
Chemically, the naturally occurring hormone melatonin has been found to play a role in the human sense of balance. Melatonin supplements prescribed for conditions such as insomnia cause dizziness in some people. Herbal supplements that seem to improve balance include ginger, periwinkle and gingko biloba. A diet that includes adequate vitamin C also seems to be beneficial, and one study found that eating blueberries in particular improved people’s sense of balance. One specific condition that affects balance, Ménière’s disease, appears to be related to excess fluid in the inner ear, which can often be controlled by greatly reducing a sufferer’s salt intake.
Scottsdale naturopath Paul Stallone, N.M.D., provides personalized wellness care to clients young and old, with an emphasis on the prevention of disease and injury. Dr. Stallone’s naturopathic care includes many treatment modalities including homeopathy, nutrition and supplements, herbal medicine, IV therapy, detoxification, ozone therapy and more. Call today at to schedule your appointment with Dr. Stallone at the Arizona Integrative Medical Center, one of the Southwest’s leading alternative medicine clinics, and get on the road to a healthier, more enjoyable life.