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Preventing Post-Injury Muscle Atrophy

preventing atrophy

Whether athletics and physical activity are a major part of your life or not, experiencing an injury is frustrating. More than just missing out on doing the everyday activities that you love, being sidelined by an injury can cause muscle loss due to a process called muscular atrophy.

Atrophy is a product of the reduced rate at which protein is processed by your body, while the breakdown of these proteins in your muscles is increased. This imbalance can lead to loss of muscle mass and strength, but there are ways to fight it. The following tips will help you minimize muscle loss following an injury.

Rest Long, Rest Often

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the biggest keys to making a full recovery and getting back to full strength is to make sure your body gets the rest it needs. Even if you feel like you can return to physical activity sooner, 3 to 7 days of proper rest is what the ISRN Orthopaedics Journal recommends for adequate muscle recovery. After an injury, however, the period of most dramatic muscle loss is during the first week, so be sure to keep the affected muscle moving without load to best stave off the atrophy.

Consider Supplements 

According to a study conducted by the International Journal for Sports Medicine, certain supplements can help protect your muscles from atrophy during recovery. Vitamin E was found to be especially effective and cut atrophy in half when compared to a group that didn’t take any supplements during recovery. In addition to supplements, you can load up on foods like avocado, sunflower seeds, and peanuts which naturally boost your vitamin E levels.

Get in the Water

Beginning about two weeks after your injury, you should consider incorporating exercise back into your routine. If your physician clears you to begin physical activity, swimming is a great way to ease your body back into the feeling of being active. Swimming acts as light resistance training while also supporting your body, helping to alleviate strain from impact.

Get Hot 

In addition to using the pool for physical activity, it has been found that spending time in a sauna can help fight atrophy. Exposing your body to the intense heat of a sauna releases something known as ‘heat shock proteins,’ which can reduce atrophy by up to 20% with just a 30-minute session.

If you’ve recently been injured, you should consult with an orthopaedic. The board-certified team at Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine can sit down with you to create a plan that suits your needs. Request an appointment online, or call us at 904-825-0540.


Ryan Hemelt - Physical and Occupational Therapy in St. AugustineRyan Hemelt – DPT, MOTR/L
Director of Rehabilitation, overseeing all physical therapy, occupational therapy, athletic training, and sports medicine outreach programs.