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When our muscles go through a prolonged period of immobilisation like having your arm broken and placed in a cast it is hard to rebuild that muscle strength when it is removed. However a recent study from the researchers of Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute have found that the mind plays a very critical role in maintaining muscle strength.
Your strength is controlled by a number of factors and the most studied is skeletal muscle. This study though focused on the nervous system as an important determinant of strength and weakness. The experiment conducted involved three different groups and measured changes in wrist flexor strength of these healthy adults over a four-week period.
One group wore a rigid cast from below the elbow past the fingers, which immobilised the hand and wrist. This group was told to regularly perform an imaginary exercise of intensely contracting their hand for five seconds, four times in row with a minute break for thirteen rounds a session, five sessions a week for the four weeks.
The second group wore a cast too but did not do any exercises while the last group had no cast and was the control group.
At the end of the four weeks the study found that both the groups that wore casts lost strength in their immobilised limbs when compared to the control group. However the group that performed the mental imaginary exercises lost 50% less strength than those that did do the mental exercises. What it also found was that the nervous system’s ability to fully activate the muscle after a long period of immobilisation, which is called voluntary activation, was much quicker in the imaginative group than the non-imagery one.