Is resting actually helpful for pain?

10 min read.

Ok, a bit of context first - yes if you have broken your leg... you need to rest it. This blog is directed at niggles; what people call injuries but they are actually just annoyances that can be dealt with.

Nowadays, I am of the impression that unless it is broken, torn, popped out or hanging off, it is not an injury - you just have a boo boo. Countless times I have met someone with a tight muscle that's hindering movement and causing pain saying that they're injured - and they're not. They're either not moving correctly when training or overusing certain muscles/patterns and not respecting what their joints want to do - which is very easily fixed !

The simple fact is that when people get a niggle, they rest and then carry on doing what they've always done, when they should be addressing causes.


We’ll go through some examples! Let me know if you have ever had experience with any of these.
I know I have had quite a few of them in the past and without a doubt it was always my fault. I wasn’t just unlucky, there was always a reason why something was happening and that is what I want to pass on to you guys! We don't all just naturally move properly and what we think we are doing; even if it looks correct; can often times be lacking in something.


The Neck:


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I used to be plagued with a sore neck, or frequently pull my trap on the one side - it is absolutely hateful! When you can’t turn your head without pain it is so frustrating... and kinda worrying, I don’t know if it is just me but the thought: “If I turn funny will I end up paralysed!!” used to always enter my head.

How it happens:

Generally most people will either hurt their neck doing a heavy pressing or pulling movement or just wake up and assume they just “slept funny”. Although this can sometimes be the final trigger, I would generally assume that it has been festering beforehand and the sleeping position was just the straw that broke the camels back.

Reasons why:
The main two causes for this happening are a relatively noticeable difference in strength or muscular endurance between the left or right shoulder, or an inability to engage the lats properly on one or both sides.

The Fix:
Regularly test your shoulders with pressing movements like the bottom up press (below) that require extra stability and always, without fail, include a warm up exercise that gives you greater awareness with your lats like the deadlift lat raises from End Range Training pictured above .

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Elbows:


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For years I thought I had a “bad shoulder”, and my right elbow took a lot of the brunt of it. Even though I don’t have any pain or weakness any more I am definitely aware of wear and tear, and it was a cause of a really bad spell of tendonitis - that REALLY sucked. I could do handstands and pull ups... but couldn’t lift my daughter or a kettle and it was just stupidly sore.

How it happens:
Rarely you will see someone experience a “pop” in their elbow and pain instantly appears, it's more like a gradual pain that keeps persisting and slowly getting worse, you ignore it for a while but then you can’t anymore and it pretty much ruins your life... well, training.... but what else is there ?!

Reasons why:
You gotta train your grip right?! So your forearms become crazy tight which will pull at the elbow. You only use barbells and pull up bars - a straight grip with a neutral wrist, even though your muscles are designed to be able to grip and pull in many different orientations. Sure you are strong on a straight bar, but go rock climbing and you will feel pretty weak pretty fast.

No only this, but your posture is bad, and your elbow is a hinge. If your shoulders are sitting forward then it cannot move freely when going overhead, this will cause a lot of stress on one side on said hinge as it tries to make up for the lack of shoulder movement. Not good when there's already a tonne of pressure from the forearm side of your elbow hinge too...

You'll also find that generally people who experience pain on one elbow, struggle with that lat on the same side - position and activation are both as important as each other.

The Fix:
Stretch your wrists through both flexion (bend forwards) and extension (bend backwards) and also do not forget about radial and ulnar deviation (fancy words for side to side) - this instantly takes a lot of tension out of the forearms and will immediately give relief to the elbows.

Make sure you are doing everything you can that keeps your shoulders in a good position - not just with your mobility work but also when training, it is very easy to get lazy.

Lastly never underestimate the power of resistance bands and gymnastics rings, you can do so many exercises with them in so many different grips that you are able to strengthen the muscles “functionally” (for want of a better phrase). Remember if something in your body feels weak, it will hurt you to make you stop. Giving your muscles that bit of variety will make everything feel more stable and secure. I have seen people have a major reduction in symptoms after 5 minutes with a resistance band after weeks of pain.


Lower Back


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My favourite! As some you know - I have a back injury that shows on an MRI with protrusions and nerve impingement.... and no pain. Well, now I have no pain. I used to have pain, like proper laid up, couldn’t even put my left foot to the ground pain and felt like my spine had been severed - BUT! Going through that actually led me to discovering more about the body than you could ever read about, so I don’t begrudge it... would I like to do it again? Absolutely not.

How it happens:
It may be an impact injury from a past accident or fall, a training injury from your form slipping, from trying to go too heavy on a day your body didn’t feel like it, or you could have muscular tightness in a few different places that cause your hips to pull in a funny way when moving which doesn’t lend well to loading and long term consistent pressure causes your back to eventually just give up ... then you sneeze and feel a pop and blame the sneeze.

Or, it is quite common that this muscle tightness imbalance causes pain but hasn’t caused an injury yet and your body is trying to warn you, so an MRI shows no damage and you feel lost and like life is unfair.

Reasons why:
There are so many I don’t think I could cover them all without making this a full book. A shorthand version though, most people have terrible balance which points to a severe lack of stability within the body. They then proceed to they lift heavy weights and run because they “can” but ignore the symptoms and just rest when they get sore.

Every day activity comes into play a lot -  many of people favour standing on one leg which can cause the hips to hike ever so slightly. If you never stretch this off, your body starts to twist a little; you won’t even notice it, it feels so natural and so you keep standing more on that leg, but you will start to feel one hamstring, glute, or even calf more than the other and decide that’s just your “tighter side”.... which it is - but because of you always standing or sitting funny, not just because life isn’t fair.

And I'm sorry but core strength is just not up to scratch for anyone... and I mean anyone. I now teach people 4 different types of core strength and I am yet to see someone that hasn’t been grateful for the results they get from the way I explain it. Isometric, rotational, anti rotational and reactive all must be included with whatever it is you do. If you enjoy lifting weights or training cool things without addressing all four of these eventually something will give, either the back, hips, shoulders, knees etc... most times it started with a core issue.

The Fix:
The Simplistic Mobility Method is so effective because it addresses thoracic mobility, hip flexion, internal and external rotation, core strength through multiple planes, balance, ankle range and stability, glute activation, hamstring awareness and a quite few other things mentioned above - if you don’t want your back to hurt all of those things have to be in place to a high standard. I don’t mean you have to be perfect, no one will be truly symmetrical, but you can get quite close and should make sure to check these things in order to keep doing what you love.

Too many people stretch their lower back and cause instability - your lumbar spine has 5 large vertebrae, your thoracic has 12 smaller ones - which section needs more mobility? The only time you should even be considering increasing lower back mobility is when it doesn’t hurt and when you have a specific reason to do so.

Try and avoid sitting for long periods of time if you suffer with lower back stiffness. Get down on the floor, rotate your hips, squeeze your glutes and you'll quickly feel better.



Knees


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My knees used to feel so terrible, like I used to feel like I was balancing on stilts from the knee down, only later did I realise my hips were really REALLY bad. Out if everyone that I have worked with I would still rank my own hip mobility years ago as probably the top 20 of bad, bad, bad. Luckily they feel absolutely fine now - so if you are one of those people with “bad knees” I wouldn’t write yourself off just yet, I have seen some MAJOR improvements from people that basically decided they were done.

How it happens:
Usually it starts with a feeling like it's taking longer and longer to warm up your legs, or maybe some clicking in the knees. A dull ache or feeling like you have twisted your knee a little can happen for a while, then it just turns into full blown burning pain or a weakness that makes you feel awful, and you freak out at the thought of putting pressure through them or running or jumping - eventually you become that person that “has bad knees” and you accept it.

Reasons why:
Your hips are stupidly tight. Your feet are weak, you don’t take them through their full range of motion enough. Like the elbows your knees are just hinges really with not much wiggle room, if anything above or below them isn’t on point then they are going to get pissed off pretty quick and feel unstable. Similar to the elbows, if muscles are not being used correctly the weaker joints will start to shout the loudest.

The fix:
There's no generally accepted standards for what should be adequate for the knee, but for me if you cannot pass the deep lunge test and easily balance on your left and right leg individually then your knees are in for a rough ride; you don’t need to be able to do a pistol squat or anything like that but those two things are essential. Get in your bare feet more often and spread your toes and train barefoot when you can, it is such a simple thing to do and you won’t even realise the obscene amount of benefits you'll receive.


Did any of this resonate with you? Let me know your experience in the comments on Facebook or Instagram. And if you'd like to see any more detail in of any of the topics mentioned let me know!
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