Ask an Expert: Rest Days, Do We Really Need Them?
Read time: 7 Minutes
When you're in the formative stage of developing a new habit, whether this be eating out less or working out more, what can sometimes be harder than keeping to it, is knowing when and how to take a break from it. Rest day can so easily turn into rest week, rest month and then before you know it, it'll be another rest year.
If you’re losing sleep and feeling derailed from aches, pains and injuries that have come from the heavy front-loaded new year’s resolutions, you'll want to bookmark this one.
We spoke with Steve Resta, co-owner and physiotherapist of Bragg Creek Physiotherapy, for tips on how you can crush those goals while listening to your body and giving it time to recover.
Spoiler alert: you’d think his last name is his physio alias after reading this.
Do you see a lot more patients coming in for injuries caused by overexertion in the period after New Years resolutions, or any season in particular?
Yes, overload types of injuries develop if people are often engaging in an activity that they’ve never done before. We also find that one of our busiest times of year is during a change of season; as people are doing more activities outside, these activities create different loads on the joints, muscles and the body. After 3-4 weeks we may start to see those types of injuries or problems develop.
How important are rest and recovery days and why do we need them?
I think as we get older, recovery days and ‘enforced rest’ are more important than ever before. The recovery period is when we respond to the activity stimulus, and it definitely requires those down days to repair and restore the loaded tissue. In order to stay efficient and allow us to train again, our body systems need to be in a homeostatic state, which occurs with appropriate nutrition, hydration and rest and recovery.
For those of us that already have nagging pain, how important are rest days in healing injuries?
If you’re starting to feel symptoms of some kind, like pain or muscle tightness, your body is sending clues and signals. You may need to modify or change activity, load a little bit differently, or, take a complete day off to allow that tissue a chance to recover. Self-compassion is an important component when we’re learning new activities or training, there’s no question.
What are some signs and symptoms that we should recognize as to when you should seek professional help?
My golden rule is that if you continue to have symptoms (such as pain, swelling around the tendons, muscle tightness, loss in mobility and movement) for 7 to 10 days, and things really aren’t changing after that period, then I would prefer to see a patient to go through an assessment. The earlier we can see a patient, the easier it is for everyone. If we see a patient 3-4 months after an injury begins, it’s much more difficult to treat as the body will compensate and create issues in other areas as a result. One of our goals (other than direct treatment) is educating and ensuring that patients understand what they could be doing or what they shouldn’t be doing, to allow the problem to settle down.
What can you do when you're injured to help the healing process but also stay on track?
When we’re treating an injury, other factors such as nutrition, hydration and appropriate rest are essential. Just because you’re injured, doesn’t mean you can’t still be active. I’ve treated a number of elite level athletes who need to continue their training while injured, so we modify their training. They need to rest the injured area but they’re still working to maintain cardiovascular fitness, strength and flexibility. It is important to ensure that you continue to be active, but in the right way.
How does sleep affect your body and the nervous system?
It’s all interconnected. If you're overtraining or not sleeping well, you’re not allowing the tissue a chance to repair or recover. Over time, nervous system sensitivity can develop which specifically affects the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our fight or flight response. This part of our nervous system can become more hypervigilant as the brain perceives a threat. Unfortunately, once this happens, it triggers metabolic activities within the body that will disrupt the quality of our sleep and create other issues as well. It can become an absolute snowballing effect.
What I’ve noticed over the last 2 years since the pandemic began, is that many of the muscles that I'm treating are the muscles that become engaged during a prolonged stress response. If a muscle becomes too tight, it can become a pain generator. Sleep and recovery are therefore important to help all the body's systems recover. However, reducing sensitivity of the sympathetic nervous system is also critical.
Though there’s more focus on recovery in our society today, there’s still this glamorized idea around the stoic mentality of ‘no pain, no gain’. It can be almost fearful to break a newly established routine but giving your body the adequate time it needs to recover shouldn't be thought of as a step backwards. As Steve mentioned, in this season where burnout and resolution fatigue are so prominent, self-compassion and early recognition of issues can really make all the difference in your recovery process. Take a load off, focus on a different aspect of self care and when necessary, reach out to a professional like Steve to get you back on your A-game.
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