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Tid Bits of Info

  • Building strength can take months to return to pre-injury status.
  • Hypertrophy of a muscle occurs when the muscle cells “grow” larger due to the “over-load” principle.
  • Atrophy is when the muscle appears to waste away or shrink.
  • Atrophy can be reversed in most instances.
  • Seek the advice and treatment of a Physical Therapist if you get injured.

An injury can easily weaken muscles in the affected area, and healthcare professionals are trying to help build muscle mass and strength during rehabilitation. At the same time, the injured area needs time to heal, so patients are often instructed to reduce resistance and repetitions. How do patients avoid muscle atrophy? One new approach may offer a much-needed solution to resolve this dilemma.

Muscle atrophy is a process that occurs for several reasons, but the end result is a smaller, weaker muscle.  The most common type of atrophy that occurs is disuse atrophy.  When someone is injured or has surgery that requires “down” time or rest for the injured body part, the muscles that are not used for their normal function will get smaller due to a degradation process of the muscle protein.

In contrast to atrophy, hypertrophy of a muscle cell (sarcomere) can be defined as an increase in mass or girth of a muscle cell. The most commonly accepted theory of muscle size and strength development is hypertrophy of an individual muscle cell.  These same cells can also be “trained” to grow larger through training such as overload strength training. This is based on the principle that overloading (progressively increasing resistance) will lead to muscle hypertrophy, resulting in growth of muscles. In most instances, the muscle will begin to show the biochemistry changes associated with hypertrophy when a consistent workout of 60-80% of the 1 repetition maximum (1RM) is performed for several weeks / months.

The major problem with developing muscle hypertrophy in an injured individual is the simple fact that they cannot handle 60-80% of their 1 RM.  They are most likely not strong enough to move this load and/or they have restrictions that will not allow them to use this amount of resistance. This presents a dilemma for the healthcare professional and the protocol that will be used during the rehabilitation process.

Heat is one new approach has been tested recently with favorable results.  The protocol utilized the process of heating the muscle with a hot pack for 20 minutes and then performing 3 sets of 8 repetitions with a resistance that was 30% of the 1RM for that individual.

build muscle mass

The participants performed this routine 3x/week for 6 weeks. The results were very positive for the test group showing signs of helping to build muscle mass and strength of the tested muscle mass.  The test group’s 1RM increased, also.  The control group who did not receive any heat pre-workout did not improve in any area.  They remained status quo with their pre-testing data.

Clinically, this is encouraging because it might enable healthcare professionals to begin a “strengthening” program much earlier in the rehabilitation process and not jeopardize the healing process. Waiting for the healing muscle to be able to handle 60-80% of the 1RM can take months of healing, but using 30% of the 1 RM could enable someone to build strength and muscle size within the first couple of weeks.

Strength deficits are common in every population and without proper training the muscle will not regain full strength on its own.  Physical Therapists are great licensed healthcare professionals who can evaluate your condition and develop an individualized rehabilitation plan for your condition. Visiting a Physical Therapy is easy and does not require a visit to your doctor. Check with your insurance policy because it may require a referral to a specialist from your general practitioner.

One of the most difficult aspects of a rehabilitation program is to build muscle mass and increase strength.  It appears that adding 20 minutes of heat to the body part that is most desperately in need of developing strength is a quick and safe way to enhance the strength in the involved body part.

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