Exercise Science

Should you rest after an injury?

Should you rest after an injury?

Perhaps not.

Traditionally, our immediate response to a musculoskeletal injury is to rest and let the body heal itself; everyone who has done basic first aid knows that the R in R.I.C.E. is rest!

However, the importance of rest has been greatly overemphasised in the past, and this thinking has been perpetuated to this day, even though we have more and more evidence telling us that this may not be the best thing to do even cause harm.

The reason for this is that these types of injuries cause a decrease in our body’s function (our body’s ability to move and perform activities); therefore, to recover from these injuries, we must focus on improving our body’s function rather than not moving and waiting for the injury to resolve.

Instead of completely resting after an injury, your Osteopath/ Physiotherapist may give you modified exercises that mimic your chosen activity (e.g. walking instead of running). This strategy is known as relative rest, where we decrease the workload on the body but don’t completely remove the workload – known as absolute rest.

Rest is strongly discouraged for chronic injuries, such as chronic low back pain or an osteoarthritic knee. For all the reasons listed above, improper healing may have occurred, and interventions such as exercise therapy will be required.

To sum up, the old method of simply resting when injured is outdated; the evidence is clear that for most injuries, we need to be doing some functional rehabilitation and modification of physical activity loads to optimise our recovery. For the small number of injuries that do require absolute rest, the timeframes are short, and a quick return to movement is almost always necessary.

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