Why Rest Is Not Best: The Science-Backed Truth for Injury Recovery

 By  Shane Dowd, CES, CMP

Ah, rest. That sweet, sweet word that instantly evokes images of fluffy pillows and cozy blankets.

It's a favorite of the "Doctor Dan's" of the world (watch the video to get the reference...)

But here's the thing:

What if I told you that science says rest might not be your best friend, especially when you’re injured and striving for a speedy recovery? 

In the realm of injury recovery, rest has always been considered the go-to remedy.

However, is it really the most effective solution for a speedy recovery?

Let's explore the science-backed truth about injury recovery and why rest alone might not be your best friend...


The Science of Rest for Injuries: A Double-Edged Sword 

Rest is undoubtedly important. It’s the proverbial pit stop during a Grand Prix race...

However, here's the kicker: total rest doesn’t always help us bounce back faster than active rest.

In fact, according to these 3 studies, active is better than passive! For example:

  1. In this study, acute low back pain has been shown to respond much better to normal activity than to bed rest.
  2. Here, Achilles tendon ruptures have been shown to heal faster with early mobilization after surgery. 
  3. And even early mobilization after hip surgery accelerates recovery, as shown here

This is precisely why therapeutic exercises, such as mobilizations, strength, and endurance training, and others, are integral to comprehensive rehabilitation programs. They play a vital role in facilitating recovery and achieving optimal outcomes.

Does this mean “no rest for the wounded?”

Of course not!

A degree of rest (sometimes even complete rest for short periods) can be helpful.

But as the studies show, the real magic is in ACTIVE mindful recovery. 


The Rollercoaster of Rest and Recurring Injuries

When we rest, it's important to recognize that we're not just idly lounging around...

During periods of total rest, our bodies experience a disheartening loss of tissue capacity and an overall decline in tolerance for physical activities.

It's as though our muscles are hosting a "Going Out of Business" sale, and unfortunately, we end up paying the price.

Regrettably, working with thousands of people with pain and injuries, I've witnessed far too many people unknowingly embark on this rollercoaster ride of rest, inadequate treatments, and eventually finding themselves back at square one.

Here’s what that typically looks like:


Here, you can see that, without a certain amount of stress or load on your body, your tissue capacity drops, and pain is right around the corner.


The Solution: Smart Rest

So, what's the game plan here? It's simple yet game-changing...

When faced with an injury, it's wise to step away from activities that aggravate your condition but keep the engine running by engaging in other exercises that maintain your overall capacity.

It's akin to swapping out heavy lifting for a more gentle swim — you're still actively moving, but you're granting the injured part a well-deserved break.

Here’s what that looks like:


In this image, you can see that when you stress your body just enough, “The Goldilocks Principle,” your capacity and function increase...

AKA, you get stronger and fitter without setbacks! Of course, sometimes there are minor setbacks. Minor “symptom fluctuation.” 

For example, in my hip recovery journey, when I was solving my hip impingement issues without surgery, there were many ups and downs.

You can see the full video below, but the take-home message is this: expect some peaks and valleys, but keep mindfully striving to move upwards. With patience, you’ll get there.


So How Much Load Is Just Right?

There’s no “hard and fast rule” for how much to rest and how much to load...

However, one handy guide is the "3 out of 10" rule.

Picture it like this: zero is no pain, and ten is excruciating...

According to this rule, your pain shouldn't exceed a 3 out of 10 during activity or exercise.

Ultimately, the best solution is gradually becoming so in tune with your body that you know how to auto-regulate when to stop on the gas and tone it down.

My favorite tools for becoming more in tune with my body are:

  • A body-based meditation practice like Vipassana meditation
  • A daily massage, stretching, and strengthening practice is like “checking in” and having a conversation with your body every day.

The more you talk with your body, the more you’ll speak its language!


The Path to Sustainable Recovery

Ultimately, the goal is to break the vicious cycle of recurring injuries...

Mindful movement and a structured progression of mobility and strength exercises tailored to your body's unique healing process becomes imperative to achieve this.

Professional guidance may be necessary to ensure an optimal recovery journey.

But, remember, it's not just about resting; it's about resting without withering.


Embracing a New Mantra: "Rest, but Don't Rust!"

So, there you have it — a fresh perspective on the concept of rest.

The next time “Dr. Dan” nonchalantly advises you to "just rest," you'll know better.

Embrace the notion of rest, but be careful not to rust.

If you're dealing with stubborn or chronic injuries and ready to take control of your recovery, explore the possibility of our VIP mentorship program below. 👇 



About The Author

Shane Dowd, CES, CMP, is the owner/founder of GotROM.com. He is also a sports performance & mobility coach specializing in injury prevention and flexibility for athletes.



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