"Why don't you take a few days/weeks off and see how it feels?"

This is advice that is too frequently given as a way to "treat" common musculoskeletal concerns and to be honest, it does more harm than good.  

Why? Because it creates a vicious cycle. 

Here's a common scenario:

A person, like you, experiences an unwanted symptom (pain, stiffness, achiness, etc) during or after an activity. For the sake of this story, let's call the activity hiking. At first, the symptom might not be enough to keep you from going hiking but over time it increases to be more than a kind of annoying thing to something that is affecting your ability to hike and potentially, activities of daily living (sleeping, walking, driving, bending over).

So you take a break.  Maybe this is something you choose to do, maybe it's something that is recommended to you. 

You start to feel better.  The symptom slowly goes away and you're back living your life with minimal interruptions.  You decide you're ready to get back to hiking.  So you pack up your backpack, put on your boots and hit the trails.

Only to have the symptom return again.  You are frustrated.  You were feeling so good and just like that, you're back at square one. 

So you decide to rest again.  This time for a bit longer since it kind of worked the last time so more must be better. 

You're bummed since you really like being able to get out during the summer and the weeks are flying by.  You decide you're ready and head back out again, only to once again, be met with that now-familiar symptom. 

What is going on?!

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, the first thing to know is that you aren't alone.  A lot of people think that resting is the answer to dealing with their aches and pains.  However, rest is rarely the answer. 

There are two things at play here.

1. Injuries, including aches and pains, occur when the load we expose our body to is more than our body's capacity.  For our example of hiking, the load would be how long are the hikes, how hard, & how often you hiked.  Our body's capacity is more challenging to track as it changes with how much we sleep, how well we eat, how hydrated we are, our stress level, and how prepared we are for the the physical challenge of hiking. 

2. The SAID principle.  Our body responds to the demands we expose it to and will adapt to those demands.  SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  While we rest our body is adapting to the lack of demands by becoming deconditioned.  When we decide to go back to hiking, not only has the reason we were experiencing the symptom not been addressed but now we are less prepared for the demands of hiking.

Rest is not the answer. 

Modifying the load placed on the body, improving our capacity, and allowing it to adapt is how we stay active and reduce unwanted symptoms. 

Emily Rausch

Emily Rausch


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