Alcohol and Injury

For someone that considers themselves to be an athlete, an injury can have a large impact on their life. Be it a recreational athlete that enjoys going out and playing in pickup games and leagues, or a professional athlete that relies on athletic performance to provide for their family, the key to returning to pain-free activity is to create an optimal healing environment for the body.

It has been said before that there is nothing a clinician can do to speed up the injury healing process. Spoiler alert, there is no “magic pill” or miracle treatment modality that will change this. What the clinician (and patient) can do though, is to create an environment that allows for the body to work in an unobstructed fashion.

On this site, we tout the benefits of using sports medicine professionals and present ways to manage certain conditions. This post though, is based around the idea that the actions of the individual have real consequences and how partaking in certain behaviors can significantly decrease the likelihood of a speedy and complete recovery from athletic injuries.

The intent of this post is not to say alcohol is bad and that people should never drink. The goal of this is to educate our readers on the effects of alcohol on the body and how those things relate specifically to tissue healing post injury. Armed with this knowledge, we hope you feel more confident in making decisions that will help to produce the desired outcome in your life.

The following things have been proven to happen with the consumption of alcohol.

Alcohol …

– Impedes muscle development

– Impairs muscle growth

– Dehydrates the body

– Reduces the ability to produce ATP

– Contributes to the alteration of sleeping patterns

We will now look at each of these things individually and discuss how it relates back to the healing process. Often times, an acute injury has roots based in inefficient or weak muscle and joint mechanics. Think of a volleyball player that tears an ACL while landing, or a basketball player that dislocates their shoulder while trying to get a rebound. In both of these examples, a sports medicine professional will need to implement increased contraction in under stimulated and weak muscles surrounding the joint. Without adequate contractive force, they are not able to support the joint in the extremes of motion and injuries are more likely. The consumption of alcohol effects this by disrupting the new neurological bonds that are attempting to be initiated. Recruitment of new muscle fibers and muscle bundles is impossible without the use of the neurological system. Plateaus in rehab and training will occur and result in the never improving on the level of function prior to injury.

Likewise, alcohol is a diuretic, which means it decreases hydration levels in the body. Without proper hydration, the soft tissue of the body becomes less elastic, ROM is decreased, scar tissue is more likely to form, and toxins are more apt to remain in the site of injury. None of these things lead to the “optimal healing environment” we are looking for. As for the decrease in ATP, research studies have shown that there is a correlation between the ingestion of alcohol and the chain reaction that it produces with the cells of the body, particularly the mitochondria. The structure and purpose of the mitochondria react to the demands placed on the body, however as they respond to their new roles, the function of cellular power plant is decreased.

The alteration of sleep patterns could be caused from the events surrounding the consumption of alcohol and can also relate to the decrease in restful sleep. Restful sleep is a time when your body heals and recovers from the stress and strain placed on it. Alcohol has been shown to decrease the amount of restful sleep and it can exacerbate the effects of sleep apnea, snoring, restless leg syndrome, and other sleep disorders.

In conclusion, there are a myriad of reasons to avoid the consumption of alcohol while attempting to heal from an injury. We hope you keep these in mind if you have an injury and hope to return to full athletic participation as fast as possible. Creating an optimal healing environment and maximizing the body’s natural response to injury can be done, it just takes discipline and mindfulness.


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