PHYSIOTHERAPY COLUMN: To rest or not to rest? That is the question

Physiotherapist Mark Buckingham
Physiotherapist Mark Buckingham

Muscle aches and pains are an inevitable result of sport, gardening, DIY – and daily life!

But how can you tell if you should rest or not?

Leading Northamptonshire physiotherapist Mark Buckingham continues his bi-weekly sports medical column with advice on how to when to push through the pain…or when you need to rest.

There are ways to test a muscle yourself to give a better idea of what you should do when feeling the aches and pains of any number of daily activities.

Pain is your guide, but it comes in many guises.

Pain can be sharp or achy, pulling or tight. What do they mean?

When testing an injury you are trying to decide how much of the area has been damaged.

The analogy to think about is a piece of material which in a mild case has a bit of fraying around the edge, through to a serious case with a big rip through it.

The bigger the damage the more nerve endings are stressed and the more it hurts.

A mild strain will take a lot of loading without much pain whereas a serious tear will hurt with the lightest of loads.

Thus you have your gauge which it is by how much pain you are in.

To make this a little more practical there are a few simple tests.

You need to be able to stretch and contract the muscle to test it and an easy example is the calf.

If it is sore to stretch but not painful to go up onto tip-toes on one leg, then there is likely to not be much damage – a small strain only.

This means that you are probably okay to run steadily but do not move fast off the foot for four days at least.

If it is sore and achy to stretch and is sore and painful to lift up onto tip-toes, then there is more damage.

The likely outcome of running on it is that you will tear the tissue further.

To prevent this and to allow the muscle to heal you should rest for at least four days and re-test, waiting until the pain is not there on the lift up to tiptoes.

If there is no pain to stretch or to lift to tip toes but it is sore after five minutes or so of running then you have some very minor damage which the body is protecting.

This will usually respond well to massage.

Do not stretch hard into soreness because you will potentially damage it further.

Ease into a stretch and use your fingers to massage it three times a day.

The damage in the muscle is the same as a cut on the skin.

If you have a scab you would (should!) not keep on picking it to see if it has healed, so why would you keep on stretching a strain to see if that is better?

Leave it alone and then re-test to see how it is healing.

Mark Buckingham is director of Witty Pask & Buckingham Chartered Physiotherapists, Billing Road, Northampton. For appointments, call 01604 601641 or visit