Should you rest when you are injured?

By Emily Pappas, MS

Whether it be an ankle sprain, hamstring strain, shoulder injury, low back pain... at some point, we’ve been told to take some time off- to REST.

If your athlete is injured, this article is a MUST to understand what to do to so you can DECREASE her time to return to sport and DECREASE the chances of her getting injured again!

Experiencing an injury? That means you have to REST, right?

The truth is, if you take off completely, you actually INCREASE the amount of time our body needs to return to sport and INCREASE the chances of getting injured again!


Debunking the MYTH of complete rest

Whether you break a bone (an acute injury) or you suffer from an ongoing situation like nagging pain in your hip (a chronic injury), your body is dealing with a workload that is greater than its ability to handle!

If you completely stop your training while you heal, your ENTIRE body becomes de-conditioned.

Think about how sore you get the first time you get in a good workout after you took a couple of weeks off for a vacation.


Now consider how much ground you would lose if you let an injury completely sideline you for a month or two! In fact, many athletes who then try to jump back into a training program after taking time off find themselves quickly on the sidelines with a new injury.

This is because full rest DECREASES their body’s capacity to handle the loads of their sport. Jumping back into a training volume they previously could handle is a recipe for injury as their current body no longer has the capacity to handle those work loads.

Training AROUND your injury

For the most efficient and timely recovery from injury, it’s actually better to GET MOVING!

Research has shown that early and often movement following sprains, ranging from a mild ankle sprain to a complete ACL tear and reconstruction, actually has more beneficial long term outcomes (1).  Hamstring strains have shown to have quicker functional movement gains with early rehabilitation (2). Finally, in patients with low back issues, perceived pain was decreased following movement (3).

Of course there will be some injuries that you can’t move right away, like fractures, and some surgical repairs. 

It seems obvious that an injury like this requires rest. But in reality, training the rest of your body while the injured muscle, ligament, or joint repairs itself can HELP your overall recovery time.


Let’s say you broke your foot. You can still work on single-leg RDLs, squats, and pull-ups to increase overall strength. Not only will you increase your recovery rate, but once that foot is healed, you will find it’s easier to get it caught back up with the rest of you.

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That’s right, studies show that while training your injured leg, you can actually increase strength in your injured leg! This is called the “crossover effect” . Some research has indicated up to 39% of the strength gained in your uninjured leg will be gained in your injured leg… from not doing anything but training around the injury!

If you injure your lower body, it is a wonderful opportunity to focus on getting your upper body strong, or vice versa.  The human body has 360 joints in the body; just because 1 is injured, doesn’t mean you can’t train the other 359!  

Aside from the physical benefits, training around injuries helps athletes improve their mental strength.

These benefits derive not only from the feel good hormones that are released through exercise, but by allowing the injured athlete to stay part of the team.

Training around an injury helps empower athletes keep pushing and more effectively manage a situation that is often a very negative experience.

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  • Injuries happen when your body is exposed to a workload greater than its capacity to handle

  • Full rest decreases your body’s ability to handle high workloads and increases your chances of getting re-injured when you return

  • Training around your injury helps your injury heal faster and keep your body conditioned so your can return to sport faster!


  1. Wright, R. W., Haas, A. K., Anderson, J., Calabrese, G., Cavanaugh, J., Hewett, T. E., … Williams, G. (2015). Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction Rehabilitation: MOON Guidelines. Sports Health, 7(3), 239–243. 

  2. Heiderscheit, B. C., Sherry, M. A., Silder, A., Chumanov, E. S., & Thelen, D. G. (2010). Hamstring strain injuries: recommendations for diagnosis, rehabilitation, and injury prevention. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, 40(2), 67–81.

  3. Middelkoop, M. V., Rubinstein, S. M., Kuijpers, T., Verhagen, A. P., Ostelo, R., Koes, B. W., & Tulder, M. W. (2010). A systematic review on the effectiveness of physical and rehabilitation interventions for chronic non-specific low back pain. European Spine Journal, 20(1), 19-39.

4. Cirer-Sastre, R., Beltrán-Garrido, J. V., & Corbi, F. (2017). Contralateral Effects After Unilateral Strength Training: A Meta-Analysis Comparing Training Loads. Journal of sports science & medicine, 16(2), 180–186.



Emily holds a M.S. in Exercise Physiology from Temple University and a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Drexel University. Through this education, Emily values her ability to coach athletes with a perspective that is grounded in biomechanics and human physiology. Outside of the classroom, Emily has experience coaching and programming at the Division I Collegiate Level working as an assistant strength coach for an internship with Temple University’s Women’s Rugby team. In addition, Emily holds her USAW Sport Performance certification and values her ability to coach athletes using “Olympic” Weightlifting. Emily is extremely passionate about the sport of Weightlifting, not only for the competitive nature of the sport, but also for the application of the lifts as a tool in the strength field. Through these lifts, Emily has been able to develop athletes that range from grade school athletes to nationally ranked athletes in sports such as lacrosse, field hockey, and weightlifting.

Emily is also an adjunct at Temple University, instructing a course on the development of female athletes.