Firefighter Fitness, Crackyl Magazine, Lifestyle & Health
By Megan Lautz

Sometimes it takes a major setback to realize what you have.

For a firefighter, even a minor injury can lead to frustration and possible weeks on light duty. It’s easy to push off appointments and assume time will heal any nagging pain. For many injuries, time does not heal all wounds. If you are still in pain after a week or two, book an appointment with an orthopedist or physical therapist immediately. 

Shoulder, knee and back injuries can lead to major problems or surgery if ignored long enough. Once you know what’s wrong, you can work with a therapist to strengthen and stretch the appropriate muscles to reduce pain and prevent further imbalances. If you need surgery or require time off, consider these strategies to encourage healing.

1) Keep calm and listen to your therapist

Losing strength and muscle is a common fear among injured firefighters. Yes, it isn’t fun to struggle with basic daily activities after surgery but ignoring pain can result in further injury. The first few days after surgery, take it easy. Once you are cleared for therapy, focus all of your energy on the exercises prescribed by your therapist. Talk to your therapist about your concerns of losing muscle. After an elbow surgery last year, my therapist recommended back and shoulder flies with no weight and a slow tempo. These exercises probably didn’t help grow the muscles in my back, but they kept me from obsessing over muscle loss and gave me something to focus on. A good therapist will listen to your concerns and give you the tools to stay fit.

2) Diet is key

Eat well before and after surgery. Prioritize vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats at every meal. You may have to cut back on portion sizes after surgery. Add more vegetables and lean protein to help replace any processed or high-calorie foods in your diet. The protein and antioxidants will help to reduce inflammation and encourage healing. Indulge in omega-3 rich salmon, herring or mackerel two to three times per week to help reduce inflammation. Consider supplementing with 2-4g of fish oil after surgery to help with healing (run it by your physician first).  If meal preparation is an issue, consider a meal preparation service until you can start cooking again.

3) Think about what you CAN do

If you spent hours at the gym or on the trails before your injury, chances are you now have a ton of time on your hands. This gives you more time to focus on the other important things in life, like your family, friends and other enjoyable activities. Sometimes it takes a major setback to realize what you have. If you are having trouble finding the positives after an injury, know it is common to struggle mentally when placed on light duty for weeks or months, especially if being a firefighter or working out is a big part of your identity. Many departments provide a social worker or mental health therapist that can help you work through the challenges of being on light duty. Sometimes a listening ear is all you need to help get through this phase of your career. 

Megan Lautz is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer with a Masters in Sports Nutrition. Her consulting company RescueRD LLC is designed to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and live longer. For more from Megan, visit @Rescue.RD on Facebook or Instagram.

Photo By iStock Images