If you are an athlete, your answer is likely YES. And if you answered YES, you are not alone. It is a common situation for many athletes.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes rest is absolutely necessary, especially in stress fractures. In fact, in many injuries rest can be super helpful to let things calm down. When that is the only thing you do, though, and you expect your pain to magically disappear, you are often very disappointed by the results. Am I right?
Whether the pain came out of nowhere, is something you know you (in retrospect) did to yourself by doing too much, too soon, or due to trauma, rest alone will rarely solve your injury problems.
The Stuff That Comes Out of Nowhere
These are probably the most annoying of injuries. The ones that randomly show up for no reason. You have run for months, years, or perhaps decades without issues and then BOOM, it hits!
It starts as a very mild pain that you can run through, but eventually becomes debilitating and keeps you from being able to run…and come to think of it keeps you from doing other things in your daily life as well.
Here’s the deal. The body can handle something for so long and eventually it creates pain to tell you to fix it. Meaning, any weakness, mobility deficit, movement fault, etc. that your body has will eventually show up in the form of pain. It is not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when.
The other thing you also must consider (and remember) is it is not just what you do when you are training that impacts the body and creates pain. Sleep quality, stress levels, lifestyle changes, nutrition, hydration, and mental/emotional state all impact how well our body performs and, more importantly, recovers. Without that recovery aspect, the body continues to break down rather than healing itself between training sessions.
When these types of injuries pop up, rest does calm them down, but until you fix the cause of it (which could be a combination of things), the pain will continue to return when you return to training.
Too Much, Too Soon
This is one that is often not considered until it is too late. You have big goals and begin training for those goals and taking into consideration what you are actually doing to your body with the large increase in intensity and volume. Your body feels great and training is going phenomenally well, so you don’t think there is any issue in what you are doing…until it is too late!
Luckily with these, you do know what caused the issue and that it likely resulted in some tissue damage. While rest will calm the tissue damage down, you still have to spend the time to restrengthen and rebuild the area that was damaged. Inflammation will decrease and damaged tissues will heal, but they won’t restrengthen on their own. That only happens through proper exercises and training.
Many things can happen to the body when traumatic injuries occur, including fractures, ligament sprains, muscle tears, or tendon strains. When these injuries occur, they often require some period of rest (or at least decreased and modified activity), at times they require immobilization, and in extreme cases surgery.
Regardless of what was needed to treat the injured area, appropriate exercises need to be done to strengthen and stabilize the area afterward. And if the area was immobilized for a period of time, exercises need to be done to get the joint moving better as well.
I have had countless conversations with athletes who never did anything to strengthen or stabilize following an ankle sprain. And then there are the many athletes I have spoken with who were immobilized for a period of time and never did anything afterward to get the joint moving well AND learn how to control that movement again. In all scenarios, issues developed later. Sometimes it is years later that the issues show up, but issues always surface if you do not rebuild the body properly.
Written by Brianne Showman. Brianne is a physical therapist and running coach with Get Your Fix Physical Therapy And Performance. Her focus is on helping athletes resolve injuries in less time by getting to the root of the problem, improving movement patterns, and incorporating proper training to help the body to move more efficiently, more powerfully, and in less injury-prone ways.