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Physical Therapy vs. Rest for Sports Injuries – Which One Works Better?


physical therapist doing manual therapy on a patient

When you suffer a sports injury, it can be confusing to decide between therapy and rest. The last thing you want is to prolong your recovery time or cause further damage to the affected area. So, which one works better? The answer may surprise you!


In this blog post, we'll explore the pros and cons of both therapy and rest for sports injuries. By the end, you'll be equipped to make an informed decision about which option is best for your situation.


To Rest Or Not TO Rest After Injuries

Firstly, let's take a closer look at rest. Rest is a natural and effective way to give your body time to heal from a sports injury. However, it's important to note that rest does not mean complete inactivity. Your body needs movement to keep blood circulating and prevent muscle atrophy.


In some cases, rest is the best option. Such is the case with acute overuse injuries. If you just went too hard and got overly sore, a short rest period can bring you back to baseline. But relying solely on rest can lead to stiffness, weakness, and loss of flexibility in the affected area. Additionally, when your body is inactive for too long, it can hinder your progress in returning to your pre-injury state.


Additionally, you may want to consider absolute rest if you are generally run down after a big competition or a long season. This rest could be a week or two but I wouldn't spend too much more than that being active. Even getting back into light activity can help boost recovery after the initial few days.


When Activity After Injury Is Best

On the other hand, therapy is an active approach to recovery that is tailored to your specific injury. I like to call this selective or relative rest. This means that you stop activity that causes the problem to become worse but you continue to do the things that speed healing. This type of treatment may include exercises, massage, and stretching to promote healing and strengthen the affected area.


A good example of where relative rest would be a good option is an ankle sprain. Most people think you avoid walking, get onto crutches, and sit on the couch. How we approach this injury is through relative rest. You may end up spending a bit more time off your feet in the first days to weeks yet it is paramount to begin range motion exercises to help avoid a more permanent loss of motion of the ankle and reduce the muscle atrophy around the ankle.


See, we used to cast or at the very least put a boot on everyone who had a sprain. After years of this the medical community realized that immobilizing the ankle was only important in the case of a fracture and that the cost/benefit of the boot was skewed heavily toward not using the boot. Simply put, the loss of range of motion and atrophy of the muscles was not worth what you gained by immobilizing.


Reasons To Get PT Sooner Rather Than Later

Another benefit of therapy is that it reduces the risk of future injuries. Your therapist can identify areas that are prone to injury and help you improve your technique or form. By strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility, you'll be less likely to suffer from the same injury again.


Of course, therapy has its downsides as well. For one, it can be time-consuming and require a commitment to regular appointments. Additionally, therapy can be costly, depending on your insurance coverage.


So, which option is better – therapy or rest? The answer isn't clear-cut and depends on the severity of your injury, your lifestyle habits, and your goals for recovery. In most cases, a combination of rest and therapy is the best approach.


Rest should be used as an initial treatment for minor injuries to prevent exacerbating the problem. However, if your injury is preventing you from participating in sports or your daily activities, therapy is likely the better option. With the guidance of a skilled therapist, you'll be back to your active lifestyle sooner than you think.


Remember, recovering from a sports injury is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and effort to get back to your pre-injury state, but with the right approach, it's possible. Whether you choose rest, therapy, or a combination of the two, the important thing is to stay committed to your recovery plan. You've got this!

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