When you have been out of the game for an extended period of time dealing with an injury, it can have an effect on your overall level of fitness. Even though a period of rest is required for the body to properly heal, it can allow for your muscles to begin shutting down. This can start a chain reaction which then begins to reduce your metabolic processes that help to maintain muscle. When this occurs, it can allow muscles to decrease. This muscle loss is due to atrophy. Understanding what is happening and how you can efficiently work past it should help you to speed up your recovery and start to rebuild your strength as well as a good level of fitness.
Basics of Muscular Atrophy
Recovery from any type of muscular atrophy will differ depending on what type you are dealing with, and the level of severity. There are two types of atrophy that can occur, disuse and neurogenic atrophy.
Disuse atrophy can occur in smaller muscle groups in as little as seventy-two hours. Larger muscle groups will take longer before they are subject to this type of atrophy. When recovering from an injury it is likely that some level of disuse atrophy will occur. For example, if you were to break one of your legs and it was in a cast while you were healing, once the cast is removed you will most likely notice that the leg which was not in a cast is considerably more muscular and toned. Despite even your best efforts at times, while healing from an injury you may not always be capable of participating in regular exercise. This is especially true when body segments are immobilized in order to allow for proper tissue or bone to properly heal.
Neurogenic atrophy is less common than its counterpart, disuse, but is much more severe and often occurs more suddenly. It is atrophy that occurs due to an injury to, or disease of a nerve that connects to your muscle. Examples of diseases and injuries that can cause neurogenic atrophy include ALS, carpal tunnel syndrome, Guillain-Barre syndrome, polio, spinal cord injury, and burns.
When you are navigating your recovery, you should always listen to your body for signals that it is ready to attempt certain activities. It will also be sure to let you know if you are doing too much. You should also make sure that you are communicating regularly with your doctor at this point and following their instructions in detail.
Take it Slow
You should always take your time when beginning exercise during and after a recovery period post-injury. This will allow for your brain and body to reestablish lines of communication which may have degraded while you have been sidelined. This communication is necessary for your body to carry out the simplest of tasks. The connections between muscles, nerves, and your brain can weaken over time due to disuse, which means that they will require some time to strengthen and rebuild. Given time, your body and brain can relearn and allow for more intense physical activity with a reduced risk of reinjury.
Start with Walking
Walking is one of the most natural movements of your body, and requires coordination throughout your musculoskeletal system. This type of simple exercise can help you strengthen the lines of communication between your body and brain while helping to increase cardiovascular function. You may also want to start swimming during this period as it is a gentle form of movement and can reduce the forces that gravity places on your body.
Depending on the severity of an injury, during and after your recovery period you may find it helpful to use orthotic aids to provide additional support and stabilization required by your musculoskeletal system to ensure performance while reducing your risk of reinjury. Orthotic aids such as braces, compression sleeves, insoles or even custom shoes can help keep your body properly aligned and protected so that you can get the most out of your exercise. Imbalances created by injury can easily throw your body out of whack and potentially lead to more serious damage or reinjury. Using a back support while exercising can ensure that your spinal column remains properly aligned reducing the overall amount and efficiency of energy required to perform certain activities.
Reduce Efforts and Work Your Way Up
You are not going to jump back into physical activity at the same level and intensity as you were capable of right before your injury. While retraining your body, you should lower your efforts by approximately twenty percent and work your way up from there while you progress. This can ensure that you lower your risk to injure an already weakened body part, as well as promote healthy progress that your body can handle.
Pain is Important
You need to be aware that pain is your body’s way of communicating that you have pushed too hard, or that damage is being done. It is vital that you pay close attention to what your body is telling you when experiencing pain during exercise after an injury. Rest is just as, if not more important to your recovery than simply working out. When your body is at rest, it is rebuilding the muscles and other tissues that are used during physical activity. This rebuilding is the foundation of the strengthening which allows you to work harder the next time that you are exercising.
Nutrition and Hydration Matter
Your body requires the appropriate nutrition and levels of hydration to properly function, especially when you add physical activity to the mix. You should try to feed your system with the best anti-inflammatory foods that you can while ensuring that you drink enough water to maintain appropriate hydration. This can promote digestive function which is integral to delivering nutrients to your muscles, tendons, ligaments while they are recovering and strengthening. It can also be crucial to your overall homeostasis.
When recovering from injury and reintroducing physical activity to regain fitness, you should take your time, pay attention to pain, scale your effort, as well as feed your systems with the best nutrients to promote total body health. Doing this should give your body the time it needs to acclimate to the demands of physical activity on your journey to a total recovery post-injury.