In exercise, work, and life in general, the statement “No Pain, No Gain” is oft quoted to motivate, encourage, and focus the recipient. It is intended to drive the “do-er” to push harder, work longer, run faster, jump higher, etc. But how far is too far? Is there a limit to how far we should push our bodies when confronted with physical and mental exhaustion? This question is particularly relevant when considering physical fitness and the limits that injuries can impose on our bodies. After all, by nature physical fitness can be a demanding and enervating activity on the body. Combine these activities with physical or mental exhaustion, poor form, and distraction and injury is almost inevitable. This, then, begs the question – when recovering from an injury, should you continue exercising? If so, how much activity is allowed? This question is often faced by avid fitness enthusiasts, as the one source of relief from mental stresses and worries can also be the source of their physical pain.
Exercise and physical activity is essential to a healthy body. It is important in treating both physical ailments, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as mental diseases, such as depression (Arao, Oida, Maruyama, et al). However, as with everything in life, there is a balance and a limit that must be respected. When the first signs of injury, such as inflammation, pain, and swelling are experienced, heavy exercise should be avoided. The common acronym, RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation – is most likely going to cited by your doctor as the first steps to injury recovery (Hall).
An article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports describes three phases of the initial sports injury: the acute inflammatory phase, the proliferative phase, and the maturation and remodeling phase (Kannus, Parkkari, Järvinen, Järvinen, Järvinen). The article asserts that with this description of tissue injury the best recovery management involves the RICE method for the first 7 days. This method gives the tissue the best environment in which to heal (Kannus, et al).
Many health practitioners would agree the most important thing in injury recovery is giving your body the time and rest that it needs to heal (Amann). But at the same time, completely stopping all physical activity can be detrimental as well. “Too often the tendency is to stop exercising completely once an injury occurs. Many people are unaware that fitness training and injury recovery go hand-in-hand” (Amann). Some studies suggest that “early, controlled mobilization instead of prolonged immobilization” is the key to acute injury treatment (Kannus, et al).
In the same article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, the authors asserted that very little total rest is needed before a gradual reintroduction of activity. In fact, their research into small mammals found that mobilization of the injured tissue is recommended after 3-5 days of immobilization and that muscular atrophy can begin with immobilization longer than 1 week. While the authors noted that healing times are likely to be slightly longer in humans, they did assert that experimental clinical trials in humans supported the same results. Their conclusion was that “a carefully conducted early controls mobilization is better than immobilization – not only in the primary treatment of acute soft-tissue injuries but also in post-operative care” (Kannus, et al.)
Based on these articles and studies, it appears that the general consensus among injury recovery specialists is that a short period of inactivity and rest followed by a progressive program of mobilization and reintroduction to activity is the ideal formula for injury recovery. While the initial rest is critical to prevent re-injury, gradual activity is just as important to long-term recovery and the prevention of related issues. This is important for all individuals, but especially for the avid fitness enthusiast. Not only does the research suggest that activity is beneficial, it also indicates that inactivity can cause damage long-term. Thus, while the question “Should I continue exercising” may require more information regarding the extent of the injury, overall the answer to this question can generally be answered positively.
Author: Brooke Lyons
Health and Safety Specialist