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More Training Info > Limiting Atrophy

Limiting Atrophy

Q: Is it possible to keep a limb from atrophying by working the rest of the body?

A: Yes! To share an example from my own experience, when I had arthroscopic surgery on my leg, I was still able to continue with single-leg biking (at a much-reduced level) in order to maintain some semblance of cardiovascular capacity and decrease the rate of atrophy of the other leg. I participated in upper body training for a week, but had to avoid free weight training for the lower body as it would have compromised form and loaded the spine differently by shifting most of the weight onto the other leg, potentially setting me up for some sort of overuse-type injury. After one week of 1-legged biking, I was able to return to gentle 2-legged biking to until I had full range of motion, and I added single-leg free weight strength exercises such as reverse step-ups, gradually increasing functional range of motion to a 10” step height, and then dips, lunges, and eventually squats and deadlifts. My first major activity three months following the surgery was a full day hike down into and up out of the Grand Canyon.

Why does it work? a) Aerobic activity increases blood flow and, therefore, enhances delivery of oxygen to the damaged tissue (even if the limb is not directly contributing to the workload) helping to promote recovery; b) A person who remains active despite injury maintains overall muscle tone throughout the rest of the body and decreases the deterioration of the rest of the body’s physiological systems; c) The athlete who continues to be somewhat active maintains a psychological edge over the person who stops training altogether, making the return to full activity much faster; and finally d) By doing isometric (or stationary) exercise you can maintain some muscle tone while allowing full healing about a joint. Such exercise for a leg in a cast, for example, would involve tensing and releasing the quadriceps without the leg moving at the hip or knee joints.

For more on how others have worked through injury and how you might be able to return to activity more quickly, see www.bodyresults.com/e2trainingwithinjuries.asp.


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