The standard approach for most injuries is to rest the affected area but how much rest is enough?
The experience of many clinicians is that too much rest can make it far more difficult to get back to sport quickly due to the associated weakness that also occurs. For example, a tear to one of the small muscles of the foot needs rest due to the pain. However, as well as resting the damaged muscle, the rest of the foot also gets a ‘rest’ leading to an overall deconditioning of the body. The pain goes away and off we go back to our favourite sport at the same intensity as we did before the lay off. The results – an injury to another part of the body, more rest, more deconditioning etc.
So what should we be doing?
The 1st thing is to get an accurate diagnosis of exactly you have damaged. The treatment approach for a fracture will often necessitate rest but more and more total immobilisation is not prescribed as the repair process for the bone requires a degree of loading to make sure it heals strong enough to function back to normal.
The same approach is now being used with ligament, muscle and tendon injuries. The research is demonstrating that the correct loading of the damaged structure early in the rehabilitation process is essential to achieve a full recovery. The problems is that this loading so early after an injury is often very painful and therefore counter intuitive – the last thing you want to do is cause more injury, right?
So back to the take home message, an accurate diagnosis is essential! Just being told you have pulled a muscle is not good enough, especially with the advances in medical technology, and a good clinician should be able to give a good explanation of what they believe is damaged.
Sometimes a working diagnosis is needed due to the complexity of the human body but a treatment plan should be built around it to ensure a successful recovery.