I recently visited a family relative who had what ultimately amounted to lifesaving surgery. This was not a traumatic injury, though the surgery certainly wasn't without a traumatic cost to her body. Surgically, just about everything that could have been "bypassed" was just that — bypassed.
The aggressiveness of multiple surgical procedures, coupled with a three-week hospital stay, delivered to us a woman who was weak, underweight, and exhausted.
As she convalesced at home, I had the opportunity to speak with her physical therapist who, knowing my profession, half-jokingly asked me what I would do for her rehabilitation.
I am not a physical therapist, but the answer came easily: "Isometrics," I responded. With a smile on her face, she was pleased my answer was in the right "area code." She went on to explain several things to me that really made sense, and I thought would be good content for this blog.
Isometrics involve tensing of muscles, usually against a stationary object resulting in the muscle being "switched on," but not getting any longer or shorter. For example, pushing the palms of your hands with even force against one another will result in neither hand moving, but activates or flexes both the chest and tricep muscles.
Similarly, interlocking the fingers of opposite hands and trying to pull them against one another — again, with even force — can "tense" or flex both the shoulder and bicep muscles.
Pushing one's foot against an immovable foot-board on the bed can bring the multiple muscles that compose the leg and glutes to life, and preparing them to address the load or resistance when that patient is ambulating (walking) later on in their recovery.
Without question, the ultimate goal in fitness is to build muscular strength throughout a joint's entire range of motion. For the person confined to bed-rest, practicing isometric resistance can not only improve the brain's ability to control voluntary (intentional) muscle contraction, but it also prepares the body for the next phase of therapy or physical therapy.
The biggest enemy of individuals confined to bed rest is disuse, which can ultimately lead to muscle wasting — which contains an entire host of other problems.
Often, this method of tensing and relaxing the muscles through opposing equal force (isometrics) or simply "flexing" the muscle without any kind of resistance are the first steps in therapy for many different types of injuries and surgeries.
While many people are confined to bed rest as they convalesce, under a physician or physical therapist's guidance, performing isometric exercises with incremental periods of keeping the muscle under tension followed by relaxation can be a great start to further steps toward independence and getting past injury.
Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at email@example.com and online at http://theflashpoint.org and http://VictorFitnessSystems.com.