When to Push and When to Rest

Angie Netterville, PTA, CMT

I wrote this post a few years ago for a Cancer Services newsletter, but I think it is something we all want to know when we are dealing with pain or illness. It also fits very well with Rachel’s awesome post about what exercise is right for you.

We all want to do our best to live a full life, to be healthy and to get stronger after any sort of setback. But how do we know when to allow ourselves to rest and when to push through? It’s not always easy to make this decision, but here are some of the things that work for me.


Pain is an indication that we need to stop and take notice. Sometimes pain can be fairly mild, and movement actually helps in causing the discomfort to dissipate. But in general, if something really hurts, or gets worse as you move, you should stop.


On the days that I feel particularly tired, I often make a little deal with myself to test and see if I really need the rest as much as I sometimes feel like I do. For instance, instead of cleaning the whole house in one day, I give myself permission to only do the dusting then rest and see how I feel. Or I might tell myself that I only have to do 5 minutes on the treadmill instead of the 30 minutes I normally try to fit in my day. If I am truly in need of rest, I might struggle to make the 5 minutes. But often, I find that I can make the full 30 and then some. If I at least try, I know my limitations and honor them.


We all have days when we need rest, and we need to honor that sometimes. I used to constantly push and try to do too much. I thought that resting would make me feel lazy and weak. But one of the gifts of my own cancer diagnosis was learning that rest is okay and necessary sometimes. So now I look at resting in a positive light. I view it as an important part of my day just as I view brushing my teeth or working out. When we affirm that the rest is necessary to our health, it becomes even more valuable for healing. So allow yourself to slow down, and be kind to yourself in your self talk when you do.


While it is good to slow down when we need it, movement does make us stronger and prevents residual ailments like pneumonia and blood clots. It also helps us maintain and increase strength. And although pushing too hard may not feel good, it’s good to do what we can. So if your body is feeling weak, just try to do what you can periodically, such as sitting on the bedside and marching in place, taking a walk no matter how far, doing sit to stands from the bed or chair or whatever movement you know you can safely do. And you can even schedule 5 to10 minutes  (or more if you’re  able) a few times a day to  just move in any way you are able.

The bottom line is that both rest and movement are important for healing. The key is to find the balance that is right for you. Listen to your body, push a bit to test the waters, never ignore true pain, and always be easy on yourself with your thoughts and attitude. Good health is a journey, and every day may feel a little different. But we can all make it there when we practice patience with ourselves.

Angie Netterville PTA, CMT has been practicing physical therapy since 1995 and has been with Hands On since 2009. In addition to her training in Myofascial Release, Angie has a background in Pilates, athletic performance training and Kundalini yoga and meditation.