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15th Apr


The Importance of Rest for Pain Relief, Decelerated Aging and in Sports Training

One of the least discussed, but perhaps the most important piece to wellness and rehab, and to success in sports training, is rest. It is also one of the most difficult ones to attain in optimal amounts, and to measure.

First, let’s discuss briefly what I mean by rest. Obviously it includes getting enough sleep at night, and if possible also an afternoon nap. Those are relatively easy to at least quantify. But with rest, I also refer to a state of body relaxation, where we consume the least amount of energy.

Muscles that constantly contract, consume much energy, which for many people occurs all day (and even all night) long. This can e.g. happen as a result of injuries, or pain, which always results in a reflex reaction of muscle contraction. Anxiety and stress can cause a similar muscle reaction.

Unfortunately, if we suffer from pain, muscles which continue to contract will with time cause even more pain, producing a self-perpetuating cycle of pain and muscle tension. Causes could be physical, and/or emotional.

We all have a certain amount of energy available to us, out of which only 30% can be allocated towards work, daily activities and exercise. The remaining 70% of our energy storage must go towards rebuilding, or regenerating tissues. As we grow older, we must also take into account that we lose cells, including in our muscles, and therefor it takes less for activities and exercise to deplete our energy reserve which we need for tissue recovery.

The result of continuously consuming too much of our energy storage for activities and exercise, is typically the onset of painful conditions, overuse injuries, fatigue and accelerated aging.

This is why it is so important to seek expert help for pain, learn methods of relaxation and controlling stress and anxiety, and if indicated seek counseling, and apply the principle of rest and periodization in sports training, and to modify our exercises and daily work load as we age.

It shall also be mentioned, that illness and surgery also require increased use of energy for healing, which will require us to decrease other energy consuming activities, for optimal recovery.

In sports training, one of the most difficult things to plan and implement successfully, is scheduled rest. This does not mean complete rest, but reduced intensity and volume of training in scheduled intervals, e.g. every 4-6 weeks, or more often, for about a week, for the body to recover and prevent over training, and thereby further build strength and function. This is one important aspect of training periodization. We must remember, that exercise breaks down muscle tissue. It is the rest after, which allows for protein synthesis to occur, and increase our muscle strength and function.

This is also a method used by athletes to achieve peak performance, by training lighter before competition. It would be advisable for all of us to use this principle of exercise and work, before demanding physical activities, to prevent injuries, or prior to recreational competition, for those who engage in that.

It is also a method which I often recommend to my patients, especially those with chronic pain, who have ongoing muscle tightness and tension, and for those who have physically demanding jobs, or who have much stress in their lives. But it could be helpful for all of us, and I apply it myself to my own training.

By far the most common sports injuries, are overuse injuries. These are almost always caused by athletes depleting their energy reserve allocated towards tissue repair, due to too intense training without sufficient rest. The tissues which suffer the most are those with low metabolism, such as tendons, ligaments, joint cartilage and spinal discs.

Physical therapy can help, to decrease pain and muscle tension and restore our energy reserve needed for healing, if delivered correctly. Unfortunately, far too often patients are prescribed a large number of relatively high intensity (considering the patient’s state) exercises, to be performed daily, therefor further depleting their energy reserve. This is unfortunate, and avoidable.

Properly trained orthopedic manual therapists know that pain and muscle guarding must first be reduced. Specific gentle joint mobilization and manipulation, as well as soft tissue mobilization, can be effective in accomplishing this. The best effect is achieved if patients are also initially prescribed daily low intensity painfree movements with many repetitions, to create a response of muscle relaxation and proper transport of fluids and nutrients.

Over time, when the resting muscle tension has decreased, the exercise intensity can be progressed, however allowing sufficient rest between exercise sessions, typically performed three times per week. It is important to always ensure that the energy reserve is not depleted. Increased fatigue or pain could be signs that the exercise intensity must be reduced, at least temporarily. “Detonifying” lower intensity exercise could also be continued on normal rest days, to help decrease muscle tension and pain.

Finally, I want to add that I believe that sufficient rest, in combination with regular modified exercise, proper nutrition and stress control, is one of the most important “anti-aging” remedies we have. No wonder meditation and relaxation yoga are so popular, and can be very effective.

So keep up your exercise, but don’t forget to rest!

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