Tendonitis, viral infections, and falls: the three week rule revisited.


This is valid as long as the day.

At fun, at work and at play,

   Listen to me,

   Right at week three

Is the nadir of healing delay   

I got an email from a reader in Sioux City about the three week rule. Two different acquaintances fell and broke wrists three weeks after buying new bicycles and embracing cycling.  The question came up:  Why three weeks?

The healing process for most of our age range takes six weeks.  Babies and adolescents heal faster, the aged may heal slower.  The last time you sprained your ankle, the soreness wasn’t completely gone for six weeks, though it was a lot better after two.  The zit that drains today leaves a red mark that doesn’t fade for six weeks.

When you start an exercise program, you tear down muscle and stress tendons and ligaments.  The damage from one workout takes six weeks to heal though most of the healing is done at two weeks.  If you add workout after workout, the damage accumulates.  At three weeks you have more damage than you have healing; a few days later you have more healing than damage.  If the stress of the workout doesn’t increase, you adapt to the stress after about six weeks, another way of saying you get into shape. 

If the stress is too great, the accumulated damage overwhelms the body’s ability to accommodate, and injuries result.

The important things to remember are: any stressor requires six weeks of adaptation, and any adaptation affects the whole system.

Three weeks after a new stressor your white blood cells don’t move as fast, you don’t sleep as effectively, you become a little clumsy.   You become prone to all sorts of medical problems that may or may not have anything to do with the new athletic program.

I caught my virus three weeks to the day after I started my new job.

My old outfit used to do industrial medicine for a blue jeans manufacturer.  From time to time they would do a run of their largest size, 54’s.  The workers would show up with overuse injuries three weeks later.  I implored the employer not to do all the 54’s at the same time but to do a week of them here, and a week there, to no avail.

Every year we used to see athletic injuries that start on January 21st.  People make New Year’s resolutions, and working really hard comes easy at first; they get a sense of accomplishment and mastery, and if they push themselves hard enough they get an injury. 

My wife and I were instructors in the Ultimate Bodyshaping Course (UBC) for five years.  I would lecture the new students their first day about taking it easy for the first three weeks, and they would listen.  Then they would push themselves too hard after the first three weeks, making the equivalent of a new program; more than 80% of the drop outs happened at 6 weeks. 

Thus the advice for all aging athletes: start low, go slow, no more than 20 minutes per workout every other day for the first three weeks; after three weeks increase the workout in time or intensity but not both 10% per week.

There are a lot of things that can slow the adaptation/healing process: smoking, alcohol, diabetes, hormone deficiencies or excesses, etc. 

From change comes chaos, from chaos come hurt.  Thus when I find hurt, I look for change.  Only recently have I realized that change also brings strength and growth.

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5 Responses to “Tendonitis, viral infections, and falls: the three week rule revisited.”

  1. Ira Says:

    Great information. I have known about the 10% rule but often violate it when I need to increase milage and always pay for it later. Did not know about 3 week rule.

  2. Lori Jessen Says:

    I enjoyed reading about the three week rule. And I really like your exercise recommendation. That’s how I usually end up doing it any way, but now I can do so guilt free!

  3. bill feiges Says:

    does oral b-12 work or does it need to be injectable

  4. niamh walsh Says:

    i went to colapse at work my eyes went white took tremors and bad pain in my left arm . went to hospital and they asid it was stress. coulsn t move and felt faint and paniced ,went back to doc did all bloods white cells came back a bit low ans mri of brain and back neck clear. my muscles go into lumps and have lumps behind ears and back of head as well and black floaters on eyes . i had glandualar fever ten years ago and stressed out at min
    they said it was a bad viral infection had to have more bloods in three weeks how long does it taken for a viral infection to go . i have it 8 weeks now .

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