Despite a growing abundance of good resources related to injury prevention, sports injury rehab and proper movement, there are still far too many well-accepted myths related to sports injury recovery. These myths often give physical therapy patients unreasonable expectations about their recoveries, and they may even lead some people to make matters worse. To help uncover the truth, we’ve compiled seven of the most common rehab myths you can dispel for your patients.
Myth #1: “Rest is best!”
PTs understand that properly dosed exercise is (usually) the best way to heal an injury. However, plenty of people still buy into the idea that injuries require total rest — not just of the injured area, but of the body as a whole. Injured muscles and connective tissues require blood flow, contraction, compression and decompression to heal optimally, and bedrest will delay the process and potentially cause contractures.
Myth #2: “No pain, no gain!”
Training around injuries can be useful and even necessary for competitive athletes. Training through pain, however, isn’t a great idea before an injury — and it’s a horrible idea once a tissue has been damaged. Pain is the body’s warning sign, and pushing through it will lead to dysfunctional motor patterns and possibly even chronic pain that lingers after the injury is healed. A better solution is to help patients distinguish necessary discomfort from harmful pain.
Myth #3: “Surgery is your only option.”
Depending on the injury, physical therapy may be just as effective as surgery, if not more so. Full ruptures and fractures require operations, of course, but partial tears and minor degeneration can often heal on their own with a little coaxing from the right modality equipment.
Myth #4: “Stretching is a cure-all for tight muscles.”
Common advice for a tight muscle group is to stretch it harder, more frequently — or both. While stretching can be useful, however, muscles usually get tight because they’re working harder than they should be, or in ways that they shouldn’t be. If improper movement or misaligned bone structures are causing the tightness, then stretching will only serve as a temporary fix — one that likely won’t prevent more serious injuries.
Myth #5: “The stronger you are, the less likely you are to get hurt.”
Strength loss and strength deficits are bad signs, but strengthening a muscle is not a surefire way to prevent injury. If your lower abs and glutes are weak, for instance, then strengthening your erectors probably isn’t going to prevent lower back pain. Likewise, strengthening an overactive muscle may make it even more susceptible to injury. Working on strength, endurance and flexibility in injury-specific areas is key.
Myth #6: “When an area hurts, that area is where your problem is.”
Laypeople often think in terms of muscles and body parts — but no structure works in isolation. A non-painful dysfunction in your hip might lead to a postural problem that causes shoulder pain, for example. Treating the shoulder may provide temporary relief, but until you address the hip issue, your shoulder pain will keep flaring up.
Myth #7: “Your injury will heal in X days, weeks or months.”
There are plenty of rules of thumb for different tissues, injuries, severities and surgeries. While these rules are helpful for making long-term predictions and creating an initial plan of care, patients should not view them as hard-and-fast rules for returning to work or sport.