Hello and welcome to this week’s blog, it is all about Active Rest and its Importance in Recovery. I touched on this subject briefly in a Facebook post a week ago and it has stayed with me enough to write about it some more.
Yes, Active Rest is an oxymoron… however it is one of the only true ones around, because it means resting the body to allow it recover from an injury or other issue damage. But at the same time it means you don’t have to become a ‘couch potato’.
Some people use the term Active Recovery, but they are one and the same. It is about using an activity to keep your body and heart working, while one part of you is healing.
Popular recovery activities are walking, swimming, and cycling, because of the lack of impact on your joints while participating in them.
I have heard again and again in m treatment room, that people just completely stop doing any exercise or other movement, and they are baffled as to why they are taking so long to recover from a broken bone, an operation, torn ligaments, muscles strains and the like, and just want to be recovered enough to carry on doing what they love.
Don’t Be a Couch Potato
This is a bit of an unkind phrase, but you know exactly what I mean when I use it.
Sitting for prolonged periods without movement brings a lot of people to be treated with Sports Massage. Your heart does not need to work hard while you sit, and that means less blood flowing around your body. Blood is the vital transport system of oxygen and nutrients, and it is these very oxygen and nutrients that aid repair to your body, which are also needed to keep muscles, tendons, and ligaments soft and supple.
Rare circumstances mean complete rest, sitting or lying, waiting for the body to do its work. And it is unlikely you will be seeking help from a Sports Massage Therapist in those instances. In all other situations, movement is healthy and necessary, whether it is a small amount of movement due to an illness, disease, or other issue, right up to those competing in endurance sports on a regular basis.
An Example of Faster Recovery
An interesting example on the benefits of healthy movement to recover from injury, is that of Marc Marquez, the MotoGP motorcycle rider. Just this last week, he had an accident during his race which saw him fall from his bike, roll on the ground several times, and then had the bike collide with him.
Marc suffered a complete break to his arm bone, where his bike hit him, and underwent an operation to pin the bone and repair other damaged tissues. Two days after surgery, involving himself with intensive physio and rehab, Marc was cleared to ride his motorbike at the weekend, a week after the initial accident.
Despite riding the bike with some success, he did not anticipate that his body needed a little longer to heal, he experienced nerve compression from muscular swelling, and lost power and strength in his arm after a few laps on his bike. Thankfully, he recognised what was happening and withdrew from the race to recover for a little longer.
And this is not the first time Marc Marquez and other MotoGP riders have used healthy movement to their advantage. It takes a certain amount of stubborn mindset, but they understand what is needed and listen closely to their bodies to achieve it.
PLEASE do not try the above at home, Marc Marquez is an astounding example of what could be achieved with the right medical and recovery team.
What Do I Need to Do to Actively Rest and Recover?
For the rest of us mere mortals, keeping up any movement will aid repair of the body’s tissues. Running injuries to the lower extremities, your feet, knees, legs, and hips, could be well recovered by taking up cycling.
In fact, this is exactly what professional cyclist Leah Dixon did after failing to fully recover from repetitive running injuries. She had a background in representing Wales in athletics as a child and eventually chose to invest her time and energy into mid-distance running. She suffered continual shin splints which later developed into stress fractures by the time she reached university. A six-year break from running led to Leah trying again with running, competing in the Brighton marathon only for the issues to resurface. A suggestion from her dad to give cycling a go, not only to recover but to switch focus and remain fit, has now seen Leah Dixon reap a swathe of wins and notable achievements in the world of professional competitive cycling.
Now you do not have to compete at a professional level to experience the benefits of swapping your activity for another while you recover or to avoid repetitive injury. Look at what your issue is, and what your capabilities are around that issue, and then see what else you could do involving those capabilities.
Swimming is another popular recovery activity. One that supports your entire body weight in the water so that there is no pressure from impact on your bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments. Swimming works nearly every muscle in the body, and even done gently, can bring great health benefits.
Walking is the first go-to, however. It is the first prolonged exercise any of us do as humans, and we are extremely good at it. When I broke my arm last year, walking was all I could manage, as anything involving impact hurt my muscles too much, and I could not hold onto a bike or anything else, (Marc Marquez… how?) and so I chose to walk every day to the high street, sometimes taking a circuitous route to make it more interesting. Every afternoon I would nap, and I planned to do this, to counteract how much walking I was doing and the fact that my body was under stress repairing the break.
Sleep is an incredibly effective tool for healing when used properly. Then of an evening, I would rest my arm on a pillow tower and gently move it around with my good arm as well as massage it. I would make sure I moved my broken arm in every way it was usually capable to keep it mobile, including my fingers, wrist, and shoulder, and massage each muscle in its normal direction of work. The other thing I did, which is often overlooked, was to increase my daily calories as a repair involves a lot more energy from the body.
What About Sprains, Strains, and Other Soft Tissue Injuries?
So those stories are at the more extreme end of the pile when it comes to injuries. What should you do in the case of something a little less broken, like a sprain or a strain?
A strain is when a muscle is wrenched beyond its normal range of motion, and a sprain is when this same thing happens to a ligament. Naturally, your doctor or other health professional will tell you to rest and wait for it to recover, they might even prescribe some medication to aid the recovery and deal with any discomfort you are experiencing.
I have seen time and again, people who have been taking medication for such things for months and sometimes years, and they see me as a bit of a last resort to fix them. I can usually make a difference to these people because of the effects massage has over soft tissues.
Massage should be on your list of recovery options, now I may be a bit biased but certainly research it for yourself to see the amazing benefits massage has.
And the same advice as before, seek out alternative activities to increase blood flow to the injured area after the initial and necessary 1-3 days of complete rest… yes complete rest in the immediate aftermath of an injury is often necessary. If you cannot walk with ease due to a sprained ankle, what about visiting a gym and using a static cycle. You can even rest your bad ankle out of the pedal and let the other leg do all the work. Swimming will help too, as you can propel yourself harder with the good leg, just be sure not to slip over on the wet surfaces.
Another option, if it is comfortable, is to walk using crutches or a boot, depending on what you have been given.
When I strained my leg the other day, I went for my usual Sunday run, but walked the route instead, as walking did not irritate it but running still did. Above all, listen to your body.
What if I Can Not Do Another Activity?
It is rare that you will be excluded from all activities, obviously refer to your doctor or physiotherapist for advice in the first instance.
And then think outside the box.
A family member has balance issues and often falls, now does a floor-based Pilates workout to stay active, which removes the fear of falling and none of the embarrassment or worry should a fall happen outdoors.
A client of mine struggles to stand for long periods and so will get up and move about regularly at home, which has improved the length of time she can stand.
A lady I know, had severe sciatica and found that my recommendation to get up and move in between every chapter of her book, or in every advert break in a TV show, along with massage, eventually led to her not feeling the sciatica as much and being able to move with ease outside of the house.
An ex-swimmer no longer enjoys his chosen activity because of a complicated shoulder issue, now runs ultra-distances in his spare time.
A cyclist who no longer can, due to coccydynia (coccyx discomfort) now hikes, rambles, and swims.
There is always something, you just need to find it.
How Do I Prevent an Injury from Occurring?
Now here is THE question. My number one answer to this is, STRENGTH TRAINING. Nearly all injuries and other issues arise from a weakness somewhere in the body.
Quad injury? Maybe your hamstrings are weak and allowing the stronger quads to pull on the pelvis.
Pectoral injury or tightness? Possibly weakness across the rhomboids, trapezius or in the upper fibres of the erector spinae group of muscles.
Ankle keeps turning and spraining? Weakness in the peroneal muscles perhaps.
Dominant side of the body has a ‘blown calf muscle’, well that could be weakness in the whole of the less dominant side so the dominant side is having to ‘carry’ the weaker side. Strengthen it right up and make it work just as hard.
So, get training, prevent these issues from happening in the first place. A good training programme will include cross training of other muscles so that you are a strong ‘whole’ rather than strong parts that will fail because somewhere in the chain, there is a weak link.
Please remember that I have not discussed other methods of recovery, such as heat and ice treatments, how long to completely rest beforehand, or whether physiotherapy is required. That is because every issue is different, and no one knows your body like you do.
Try to take a week of rest every six to eight weeks of regular training, and that could mean a week of yoga and walking to rest from powerlifting or marathon training.
Seek immediate advice to solve an issue before it becomes out of hand and leads to other things going wrong, remember that muscles love to join the party and then hurt because they are doing something they should not.
And if you are not sure what you could be doing? Speak with a professional.
Thank you for taking time from your day to read this week’s blog – Active Rest and its Importance in Recovery. Please contact me for more information, I hope to see you soon.