When Rest Isn’t the Answer for an Injury

Athletes sometimes share a mistaken view about the cure for their overuse injuries: they assume that complete rest is the answer. “A lot of times, the path to a full recovery is not rest, but additional exercise to counterbalance the part of the body that’s been overused,” says Robert Klitzman, MD, a sports medicine surgeon at Indiana University Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

Klitzman says taking a break from your sport without any other treatment usually doesn’t work because rest doesn’t correct the underlying reasons for overuse injuries, which include:

  • Poor body mechanics
  • Weakness in related or opposite muscle groups
  • Dominance by a related or opposite set of muscles

A classic example is patellar tendonitis—a common affliction among runners. While the problem may improve with rest, the injury often returns unless the muscles around the knee are strengthened. “Rest alone can set you up for a repeat injury because you haven’t changed what led to the original injury,” Klitzman says.

People who want to stay active or return to their sport after an overuse injury have their best outcomes with physical therapy, he says. A patient with patellar tendonitis, for example, may have a more lasting recovery after physical therapy focused on strengthening the core muscles, hip muscles and the vastus medialis oblique (VMO)—the muscles just above and toward the inside the knee cap.

Knowledgeable physical therapists at Indiana University Health Rehabilitation Services can address most overuse injuries by spotting imbalances and designing a strength program that corresponds to each person’s body mechanics. Although it’s possible to strengthen the body on your own, most patients lack the skills to identify muscle groups that need attention. A strength-training program designed without the guidance of a skilled physical therapist may only make matters worse.

Here’s the good news about this form of treatment: it’s easier than ever to weave it into a busy lifestyle. “It used to be that you went to physical therapy three or four times a week,” he says. “Now, you go to physical therapy once or twice a week to learn the program, and you do most of the work at home.”

Do you have an overuse or back injury that needs to be evaluated by a physician?For an appointment with an orthopedic or sports medicine physician at IU Health, call 317.944.9400


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