I got this question from a reader just this morning and have really been thinking about what the answer is. To paraphrase: "My doctor told me to 'take it easy.' I guess I need a definition. What does that mean? Does it mean total bed rest or just do less than I usually do? What do you think?"
A. Wow. That is a good question. Unfortunately, I think the answer here is "it depends."
When we are recovering from a sprain, "take it easy" usually means stay off the injured part for a specified time (i.e. "don't put your full weight on that ankle for two weeks and keep it wrapped"). Easy enough. Pregnant women are also given very specific instructions, depending on the circumstances (i.e. "you are on modified bed rest - can get up for meals, to shower and for appointment - until you reach 37 weeks gestation"). Also very clear.
For those of us with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis, "take it easy" can get pretty fuzzy and can mean different things for different circumstances:
- During a Solu-Medrol treatment course: Here "take it easy" might mean to avoid stressful situations (and people) for a week or so, to prevent 'roid rage. Stay home and be quiet. Distract yourself with nice movies and books.
- After your interferon injection: You may feel like you have the flu. Take some Tylenol or Motrin and stay in bed a couple extra hours. Don't push yourself the day after your injection.
- If you have fatigue (or more than usual): Maybe it will help to lay low and conserve your strength. Yes, this may mean a day in bed for some people. For others, examining your schedule and to do list and scratching off the non-essentials may be enough to get through a rough patch.
Bottom line - without knowing the exact situation, it is hard to say what a doctor means when they advise someone to "take it easy." They may not even know themselves until they are asked to really give specifics. I would recommend asking the doctor two questions: 1) What does that mean, exactly? 2) Why?
I ask "why?" for all recommendations like this to see if there is really a reason. Clearly, if I am healing from a procedure or recent infection, I can see the benefit of rest. If I am just MS-y and a doc (especially one that is not a neurologist) tells me to "take it easy," I am a little more hesitant to take that advice until there is a good reason. People with MS have built-in "brakes" in the form of fatigue, pain, muscle weakness, cognitive dysfunction and all sorts of other little malfunctions that force us to "take it easy" all the time. I need to know that this is a true "doctor's order" and not just something to say to a patient with a chronic disease that the doc cannot "fix."
Just my two cents. Anyone else want to jump in here, leave your comment below.
Read more on How to Communicate with Your MS Doctor.