Rest or not rest? – Pain

Rest or not rest? – Pain

Written By Megan Hunter


In the last few posts, we have introduced you to acute muscle injury and the idea that complete rest is not best past the initial days post injury. BUT we have also said that doing too much too soon can affect healing, much like picking a scab or poking a bruise. So, after the physiotherapist has suggested some exercises how do you know if you are doing is too much? 

The first line of defence is usually pain, our bodies natural alarm system. Most of the time, pain is an excellent signal of when we might be asking too much of our injured tissue. Even though pain gets a bad reputation, as it comes with discomfort and an unpleasant experience, it is a really good thing in acute injuries, and we would probably have a harder time recovering without it. 

When we talk about pain guiding activity post-injury, we are not necessarily talking about being completely pain free. Regarding HOW MUCH pain we can work through – this isn’t going to be the same in every person because we all experience pain differently. There is a lot of developing literature that tolerable pain can be ok to work through. For some people this might involve using a pain “traffic light” system as below, where 0-3 should be safe, 3-7 may or may not be ok, and above 7 is probably overdoing it. In our “orange zone” other symptoms such as swelling and pain increases. The ability to continue day to day tasks in the 24-48 hours after activity might give further information as to whether you are doing too much.

Resource = GLA:D patient information booklet 

What we are saying is that if you rest until you are completely pain free this may delay your overall recovery (and some might not even recover at all!), but this is not a case of pain = gain. As always, physiotherapists are here to help translate what your body might be telling you. 

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