Injuries happen; unfortunately they are just a fact of life. Whether it’s a niggly back, or a strained knee; we will all sustain an injury at some point in our life.
While injuries do need time to heal and recover, there are not many injuries or conditions that would warrant complete rest.
Exercise and movement play an integral role in the recovery process. By completely resting during injury, the body is generally going to take longer to recover, because the musculoskeletal system becomes less resilient to load and tension. In most cases, injuries do better with small amounts of load and volume being placed on them gradually, increasing this over time. By continuing to expose muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone to some form of mechanical stress, they will remain stronger and more tolerant to movement, making the recovery process that much easier and effective.
By continuing to move through an injury within tolerable ranges, blood flow to the injured site increases, bringing more oxygenated blood and other vital nutrients and immune cells required for injury repair. The increased blood flow also takes away excess toxins and other by-products of muscular activity and injury. This increase in blood flow due to movement helps to promote recovery, reduce inflammation and provide the injured area with vital proteins, oxygen and white blood cells necessary for repair.
Range of movement, mobility and muscular strength can all be impacted with a reduction of movement and mechanical load around a site of injury. For example, if the knee is injured and completely immobilised (without medical or allied health instructions) you will likely see a reduction in full knee flexion and extension with atrophy through the quadriceps. Although complete immobilisation is required in some instances, it can also do further damage and prolong recovery. If it is medically appropriate and we are able to continue knee flexion and extension with partial weight bearing- mobility, range of motion and muscle strength can be maintained to an extent. This has a positive flow on effect to how quickly we return to normal strength, movement and function, reducing recovery time overall.
Movement and exercise also helps to reduce pain, remember Exercise is medicine!
Regular exercise helps to boost the production of endorphins. Endorphins interact with opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to drugs such as morphine and codeine without the negative side effects of addiction or dependence. For those in pain due to injury, exercise can be an effective pain-reliever, while also being able to complete exercise rehabilitation.
To summarise, we almost always recommend exercise and movement to help recover from injuries. Very rarely, will complete bed rest help in any way shape or form. But, that doesn’t mean you should go at 100% and run the risk of further injury, damage or pain. It is important that you engage in an exercise rehabilitation program; developed around your current abilities, pain threshold, mobility and tolerance.
Start under the guidance of a rehabilitation professional and slowly progress as per their instructions. Remember, doing something is better than nothing, and exercise is medicine!