If you’ve ever sustained an injury, it’s likely you’ve been told by a doctor to rest or follow RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). Now, this plan at surface level seems like it makes sense – you’re hurt or feeling pain, so take it easy and rest until you start to feel better.
But, the things that make you feel better in the short term aren’t going to be things that make you feel better in the long term.
In the few days following an injury, it may be appropriate to rest. But we often use this strategy for far too long – weeks or months of resting is often a disservice.
In order to actually recover, you need a next step after the resting period is over. The long term solution is to gradually load the affected area (typically via strength training) and to address the movement and strength opportunities around the injured area to leave you feeling better and more prepared after the injury than you were prior to it.
For example, say you sustain an ankle injury while playing soccer. In the immediate aftermath, it may be appropriate to rest or follow RICE while some of the swelling and pain decreases. But after that, if you desire to get back to playing your sport, it’s important to strengthen the ankle and the rest of the body in order to be more resilient moving forward. If your only strategy is to rest until you feel like you can play again, there’s a high probability of re-injuring yourself. Not to mention in the weeks or months of rest from the initial injury, you’re losing fitness. So not only have you not addressed the issue, you also return to playing with less strength and more less endurance. It’s a cycle we see far too often.
This is a hard, but important lesson for anyone dealing with a chronic injury.
So back to the original question: should I rest after an injury?
The answer: it depends.
It depends on the severity and nature of the injury. Outside of serious injuries that require immediate medical attention, our general rule of thumb is “some movement is better than no movement.” A physical therapist and/or coach can provide guidance and referrals if needed.
We typically follow this protocol following injury:
- Rest the affected area for as little time as possible
- Continue to move & train the unaffected areas
- Assess the body for areas that could have contributed to the injury and begin to train them (we call these “areas of opportunity”)
- Reintroduce movement to the affected area as soon as possible
- Create a plan to gradually load the affected area and rest of the body in a way that challenges the body enough to create meaningful change, while dosing that load appropriately (we call this the “Goldilocks dose”).
- Build yourself stronger and more prepared to return to your activity stronger and more prepared than you previously were.