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Selective Rest – When to rest and when to keep running?

Posted on 6th February 2018 by

“Should I keep running or not?” is a question we get asked a lot by runners here at goPhysio.

There are many factors that can lead to injury from excessive training loads, running technique, poor foot mechanics and muscle imbalances, to name a few. But, whatever the cause of your pain or injury total rest is rarely advocated, as this will, in general, only slow down your progress and can cause many more secondary, longer term issues.

At goPhysio, we prefer the term ‘selective rest’

This means to selectively rest from the aggravating (pain causing) activities. So, if you’ve got an ankle injury and you’re a keen runner, it is usually better to rest from running until you’re recovering but gentle walking and alternative non-aggravating activities such as swimming or cycling to maintain movement and fitness can be really helpful.

Essentially, your body’s tissues (muscle, tendon, ligaments and bone) will adapt to the demands you place upon them. When you rest the muscles may tighten and weaken, joints will stiffen and your whole body will also de-condition. The long term effects of complete rest will often prolong injuries, with you suffering unnecessary secondary complications and time off running due to inactivity. We’re designed to move, hence movement and exercise is therapeutic.

So, if you’re feeling the odd niggle or pain when you run, our top tips to help keep you running are:

  • Pain during a run? If you feel pain during your run and it is getting worse throughout your run then stop. Make a mental note of the distance or duration at which the pain started (that becomes the point you’ll use to gauge progress on your next run). Avoid running for the next 48 hours, use ice and anti-inflammatories to help settle any inflammation. Then attempt another run within 2-3 days, running to the point at which you felt your pain on your previous run. If you make it to that point and beyond great, just gently progress your running over the next few weeks, ensuring you don’t progress more than 10% distance or mileage in any one run.
    However, if the pain and distance is the same or worse than you experienced on your previous run, it will be indicative of an overuse injury. So, stop and seek an expert physiotherapy assessment to identify, modify and remove all the predisposing factors, to get you back to running quickly.
  • Rest days are training days If your training/distance has been increasing and you feel your legs are finding it hard to reach your planned distance it may be time to rest to allow your body to recover and repair. This selective rest will allow yourself to continue progressing whilst also preventing injury. Intersperse running with other activities such as swimming, cycling, Pilates, yoga or strength training. These activities will allow your body to recover from the repetitive, high loading forces of running but will still help with your running training in other ways.
  • Listen to your body It’s important to use common sense and listen to your body. We all experience natural aches and pains during running, due to the natural high loading forces of the activity. These symptoms are often one-off red-herrings, that subside within 24hrs. However if the pain is sharp in nature and doesn’t feel quite right, or persist’s for a few runs, it’s your body warning you that something is wrong and you need help.
  • If in doubt, see a specialist By seeing a specialist like a Physiotherapist or graduate Sports Therapist when you have an injury, we’ll be able to reassure you what you should and shouldn’t be doing to help your recovery. We spend a long time with you 1-2-1 to fully understand your problem and answer all your questions. You’ll go away knowing exactly what is wrong with you and exactly how to help it get better. There’s nothing worse than sitting around worrying about what may be wrong and whether you’re doing the right thing. We’ll help alleviate your fears and the result is a speedier recovery, getting back to running pain-free quicker, without the worry of the unknown.

Good Luck & Enjoy your Running!