Common advice to rest following injuries is needlessly harming over 60s 10



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People are taking longer to get over sports injuries because they are commonly being advised to avoid their sporting activity altogether and rest. But resting is often the worst advice you can get – not only does it slow recovery, it prevents you doing what you love.

A huge number of over 60s are amateur and recreational sportspeople, and injuries will occur. Currently, too many are being instructed to cease their sporting activity once injured, out of a misguided view that rest following an injury is the best course.

Our evidence from working with everyone from retirees to Olympians at Elite Akademy suggests that it’s better to stick with your sport at a reduced intensity, rather than stay away from that sport altogether.

The current approach to sports injuries is eerily similar to the way back pain was treated two decades ago. At that time, people with back pain were recommended bed rest, which turned out to be the worst possible thing for them – they were miserably inactive and didn’t improve.

Now, we know that back pain requires mobility for recovery. Laying on your bed all day just locks the body up and increases the pain. There is a huge amount of research, including some good background here and here.

Sports injury is a similar deal: Inactivity prolongs recovery, which means people are wasting months at a time. There is also greater risk of regressing.

The best way forward following injury is to slowly ease back in to the activity, steadily increasing intensity and duration. You can increase recovery by slowly reintroducing that activity, within tolerable comfort levels.

Case study – golf injury

Some time back I had an avid 69-year-old male golfer came to us with a knee problem. He was previously advised to give up the game because the walking was too much.

After looking at his contributing factors we found that he could actually walk four out of the 18 holes. And this is where he started. He would walk every second hole for eight holes and then cart the remaining.

This built up his knee conditioning without ‘pushing through’ pain. Within six months, combined with treatment of his contributing factors, he was walking the entire course again.

Case study – walking injury

I recently treated a patient who had increased her walking routine dramatically, from almost no walking at all to more than an hour a day quite suddenly. The increase in walking soon resulted in a heel injury. The heel was painful and made walking almost impossible.

Her initial advice from a GP was to stop walking altogether – yet after two months of inactivity she was still in pain. When the patient attended Elite Akademy she was at her wit’s end.

Mobility was the answer. By gradually increasing her walking, combined with physio treatment on the heel, the patient was able to get back her fitness.

She learned the hard way that if you don’t do any activity you spiral down, rather than building up.

The body needs mobility to recover from any injury, provided it is done sensibly and part of a program. Rest is usually the worst approach.


Tell us, have you had an injury and were advised to give up what you love? What will you do with this advice?

Kusal Goonewardena

Kusal is a physiotherapist with over 15 years’ experience at treating seniors, families and elite sportspeople. His clinical research has involved finding preventative cures for low back pain. Kusal has authored books including: Low Back Pain – 30 Days to Pain Free; 3 Minute Workouts; and co-authored Natural Healing: Quiet and Calm, all currently available via Wilkinson Publishing. Kusal holds a Masters in Sports Physiotherapy from Latrobe University and a Bachelor in Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne. Aside from his consulting with the general public via his clinic, Elite Akademy, Kusal works closely with Melbourne University’s Sports Medicine team and works with elite athletes including several Olympians. When not consulting, Kusal is a lecturer, author, consultant and mentor to thousands of physiotherapy students around the world.

  1. My doctors advice when I cracked three verabrae was,’you dont need to be told to take it easy, your pain level will dictate that.’
    And on having two knee joints replaced my sister was on her feet and trying to walk the next day. It was extremely painful but she had to do it.

    3 REPLY
  2. I keep telling my elderly mum that the more she moves, walks, exercises the better chance of staying out of an aged care home!

  3. I do too Rozzy Battles! She is ten years older than me and I was helping with her physio. I hated doing it, she was in so much pain. I did my usual thing and joked my way through it. We both would have been in tears otherwise.

  4. We really have to consider carefully all the different advise /opinion and consultation on injuries, from personal experience, I just knew that I needed to keep mobility with the injury and endure some discomfort during the process, just as well!

  5. Who is telling people to rest?
    Over the last four years I have had 5 surgeries and on each occasion physio has encouraged me to move asap, usually staring the day after surgery. Not that I needed encouragement because I knew it would help.

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