Popular thought on how to manage an injury has shifted over the years. Gone are the days of just icing your injury and resting–and that’s a good thing in our opinion! Movement is the best medicine for the vast majority of injuries.
In the last chapter, we discussed the four most common causes of injury, and in this chapter, we’ll talk about some best practices on managing your injury.
You’ll learn how to incorporate the most appropriate kinds of movement, as well as when it is a good idea to take a break for a while. Not every injury is the same, so it’s important to use the right approach in your particular situation.
RICE vs. POLICE vs. MEAT – Which Injury Management Protocol Should You Use?
There are many different injury management protocols out there, and it seems like there are new acronyms being proposed every day (yup, RICE, POLICE, and MEAT are all acronyms, though I wouldn’t mind eating rice and meat with the band, The Police).
Here’s what they stand for, so you have a frame of reference:
• Optimal Loading
RICE is the old school approach to injury management–just rest, elevate the injured area, ice it, and use compression on the area. While there are certain circumstances that might warrant this approach for short periods of time (I’ll go through these in the next section), I’m not a fan of using this as a long-term solution.
POLICE improves upon the RICE approach by adding in optimal loading, which involves specific movement of the injured area. But the overall approach is still primarily based on rest, with limited movement.
MEAT is the closest approach to how we recommend managing most injuries. Use general movement and specific exercises to get the area moving well. And, of course, seek treatment as needed (see Chapter 1 for information on when to seek medical treatment), and use pain killers (analgesics) as needed.
From my 20 years of experience as a physical therapist, along with working with tens of thousands of GMB clients, we’ve found that, in most cases, getting moving as quickly as you possibly can will help aid in your recovery.
However, every case is a bit different. Let’s take a look.
When to Rest vs. When to Keep Moving
While a movement-based approach is generally best, some injuries will heal better with more rest, while others will heal better with immediate movement. In Chapter 1, we went through the four most common types of injuries, so let’s see what approach is best for each of those.
- Traumatic Injury–With trauma, it really depends on the severity of the injury. If it’s bad enough that you have to go see your doctor, you’ll probably need some amount of rest period, but just follow your doctor’s recommendations. If it’s less severe, you’ll likely want to take at least a few days or even a week or two to rest up. This rest period is a good time to get in some gentle movement to keep the blood flowing.
- Overuse Injury–Because overuse injuries are caused by “going hard” when you’re not used to doing so, rest is imperative. But after a few days of rest, once the affected area is feeling mostly better, that’s the time to start making regular, consistent movement a priority. This will protect you from future overuse injuries.
- Repetitive Stress Injury–This type of injury happens over a long period of time, so unless there’s a specific activity that’s aggravating the area, stopping your training is probably not the answer. Instead, adding in some movements and stretches that will help you strengthen and mobilize your area of pain will yield good benefit.
- Exhausted Adaptive Potential Injury–This type of injury can be quite complex and addressing it on your own might not be the best idea, especially before getting your issue checked out. Stop your regular training for now, see a doctor, and follow their recommendations.
As you can see, for most injury types, you’ll do well to keep moving (or get back to moving pretty quickly), rather than resting completely.
“But Isn’t Rest the Key to Recovery?!” Here’s My Injury Story…
I’ll use myself as an example.
A while back, I started a barbell squat specialization program, and seemed to develop a slight tendinitis of my sartorius, a muscle that attaches to the front of the pelvis. When I first noticed it, I only felt pain with touch. I noticed no pain in walking and only minimal pain in squatting (and this pain quickly subsided).
It was an interesting tendinitis that I’d never had before, and I believe it developed from my attempts at a change in squat technique, along with a relatively high frequency and steadily increasing poundage.
I then identified the technique issue (which was sitting back on my heels too much), which took the strain off the tendon.
This was actually a case where the injury wouldn’t benefit from a rest period. With the fix in form errors and the benefit of consistent exercise to improve blood flow to the area, I determined it was best to continue with my planned fitness program.
The improved technique performance takes care of the cause of the issue, but I still had the symptoms to manage.
Along with the icing and light exercise and stretching to the area, I also used a technique called “transverse friction mobilization.” This technique can be done as a self massage as long as the area is relatively accessible.
How to Do Transverse Friction Mobilization
- Massage the painful area until the pain numbs or lessens considerably, which is around 5 to 10 minutes.
- Then it’s best to do light active movements (like stretching or locomotion, as I’ll describe in the next chapter), then ice the area directly following your massage treatment.
Doing this treatment once a day is good, and twice a day is great if you have the time. I’d expect results within a week of starting the treatments, as long as the causative factor of the injury has been addressed correctly.
Make Movement a Part of Your Recovery Plan
In the next chapter, we’ll show you some essential movements you can start incorporating right away, and give you some resources to help you manage and prevent injuries.