Here’s a telling statistic: roughly 50 per cent of runners get injured every year. While this can often take the form of a niggle that can be quickly remedied with rest and physio, other injuries can be more serious and slower to heal. In those cases, the muscles surrounding the affected area will eventually start to weaken and shrink. That is, unless you start working out the muscles on the other side of your body.
This was the surprising finding from a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The researchers recruited 16 male and female college students and closely examined their wrists. Muscle size was measured and wrist strength tested using a weight machine for the hands, before they put each student’s left arm in a cast.
Half the group – the control – were told to carry on with their normal day-to-day lives and carried out no specific exercise programme. The other group, however, took part in a workout programme that targeted the flexor muscles in the wrists of their non-cast arm.
After a month, both groups went back to the lab to have their casts taken off. Again, measurements were taken of their muscle size and wrist strength. Unsurprisingly, the volunteers who had not done any specific exercise showed considerable muscle loss. Their left wrist flexors were 20 per cent weaker than before their arms had been put in a cast, while their muscles were three per cent smaller.
By contrast, the group that had worked out their right wrists’ flexors had held on to almost all of those muscles original size and strength on the left.
This phenomenon is called “mirroring” and more research is required before scientists can say confidently how – and to what extent – it occurs. In the meantime, if you are facing a long injury lay off and can’t move one limb, try moving the other. It seems to make a difference.
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