The Pitfalls of Prolonged Rest
Every week I hear many patients ask us the same question: “how can I keep active even
while I’m recovering from an injury?”. I get it.... you’re fed up of resting
the problem area in the hope that things will get better. Is this you? Keep reading!
We often find that the general advice given by doctors (and sometime even the internet!) is
that ‘rest’ is the best thing for an injury. In the hope of healing faster, the patient then rests
the problem area for prolonged periods of time. Later, though, once he/she attempts to get
back to his/her activities, the pain is still there and often it’s even worse than it was at the
There are two major flaws in the ‘rest your problem’ strategy. The first issue is that an active
person finds the idea of prolonged rest to be almost impossible, if not unbearable. Secondly,
resting the area for long periods of time can actually be even more harmful – but, more on
Let’s take a look at a fairly common scenario I encounter with my clients on a regular basis.
Quite a few of the patients I treat are generally active adults, and though they may not be
professional athletes, they do enjoy running or cycling over the weekends. I often find that
once an active patient sustains an injury – like a leg or groin injury in a runner – he/she finds
it difficult to swallow the doctor’s “rest” pill. In fact, all those kind of patients want to know
is when they can start running again!
And I absolutely love hearing that question! In fact, I dislike the “rest” prescription as
much as the actual patient! Here are the two major problems I always try to make our
patients aware of:
Firstly, rest almost NEVER actually fixes anything. Think about that for a moment. Our runner
has injured his leg and is advised to rest it. What happens when he does? Well, the root cause
of the problem isn’t addressed – in fact, it is often hidden behind painkillers. The problem
with this is that the real healing just cannot begin. It’s as though the patient is, really, just
wasting valuable time.
Secondly, resting the problem area for prolonged periods of time results in what is called
“whole body de-conditioning”. That is to say, just because the patient experiences pain in the
leg does not mean his/her entire body is incapable of staying active. Here’s the problem with
a full-body rest-up: the entire body loses strength, power, endurance, and flexibility. Once
this happens, the recovery time needed practically doubles! Remember, healing the problem
area – and SUCCESSFULLY addressing and fixing the root cause of the problem – is really only
possible when the muscles surrounding the issue are strengthened. This strengthening helps
with support and flexibility, ensuring that the muscles in the affected area no longer
overcompensate and create pain. Not strengthening these critical surrounding muscles only
aggravates the issue at hand. The key is to adapt the patient, that is, to ensure that he/she
keeps active in a safe/sustainable way – always building back up to the run, the walk, or the
cycle. Doing this keeps the patient motivated, strong, and gives him/her the best possible
start on their journey to health.
So, if you’re resting because you’re injured, but you only find more pain at the end of the
day, then it’s time to make a change. Here at Blue Wave Physical Therapy and Wellness, we can help you.
Our team will help you get back to the activities you love in no time at all. With custom-made exercises
suited to your routine and recovery, we aim to heal the root cause of the problem. If you heal the root cause of the
problem then you are sure to create a strong foundation for the MAINTENANCE of a pain free
life. This means that running, walking, or any activity you love will no longer cause anxiety
or worry. We want you to get back to doing what you enjoy!
If you’re ready to finally sort that pain out, to get off of the sofa and back out running or
doing what you love, give us a call TODAY. We look forward to helping you get back to health
safely, quickly, and effectively.
I know that when I’m hurting, the last thing I want to do is get moving. But I also know that’s what I need to do. That’s one motivation for me to get to the pool in the mornings. Our bodies are made for movement. When we don’t move, we get weaker and lose flexibility, our circulation slows down as well as our digestion. Frequently, our lack of movement and inability to do the things we want to do can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Apparently, a lot of Americans are hurting due to injury or disease. I’m sure you have heard that Americans are in the middle of an “Opioid Epidemic” from pain medications such as Vicodin, Lortab and Oxycontin. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 11% of American experience pain on a daily basis. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions for opioids were dispensed, and 1 and 4 of the people receiving those prescriptions already struggle with addiction. Another study of Medicaid patients showed that 61% of opioid related deaths were related to chronic pain diagnoses. That’s why the CDC released a new set of guidelines in March 2017 with safer alternatives for long term- pain management. Physical therapists can play a key role in those alternatives.
A physical therapist is trained to guide a person through movement to improve the pain instead of masking it with medications. The “side effects” of physical therapy include improved mobility, increased independence, decreased pain, and prevention of other health problems through movement and exercise. As part of their new guidelines, the CDC cited “high quality evidence” supporting exercise as part of physical therapy treatment for familiar conditions like low back pain, hip and knee osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia.
Before starting an opioid pain medication, talk to your physician or consult your physical therapist for information about alternatives and realistic pain management goals. Blue Wave Physical Therapy and Wellness helps those with chronic pain by using manual therapy techniques, specific stretching, education of safe movement and body mechanics, and gentle progression of movement.
We help active adults get back to exercising, feeling fit, and participating in the activities they love without medications, injections, or surgery.
Catherine Courtney, PT
Specialist Physical Therapist