Immobilization and Rehabilitation



1) Species

2) Fibre composition of muscle

3) Length of time immobilized

4) Position of joint fixation

5) Specific muscle

Effects of Immobilization:


           Atrophy: dependent on:

duration of immobilization;

degree of stretch


         FIBRE DISTRIBUTION : in humans a type I to type IIb conversion has been reported


         Possible preferential atrophy of type I fibres dependent on consistent impulse activity



Possible Reasons:


1) Time: ST need regular neural input and may therefore be the first affected


2) Afferent Feedback: ST receives a greater density of afferent feedback, therefore immobilization may affect ST more severely





Decrease in Muscle Activation (ITT) EMG, reflex potentiation, firing frequency

Immobilization Activation Decrease

3) Position of Immobilization: a multi-muscle joint may have one muscle in a more or less stretched position than another affecting the rate of atrophy

  Shortened position results in an increase in protein degradation and decrease in # of sarcomeres

4) Extent of Training: if FT fibres have been previously hypertrophied through training, then the return to baseline will be more significant for the FT than the ST


PROTEIN COMPOSITION: decrease in myofibrillar protein with a sparing or an increase in stromal and soluble protein concentrations


PROTEIN TURNOVER:decrease in protein synthesis with increased protein degradation occurring with longer periods of immobilization



MUSCLE METABOLISM: depending on duration of immobilization, glycolytic and oxidative enzymes are either decreased or unchanged



- decrease in both absolute and relative voluntary and evoked contractile force

- decreased reflex potentiation

-      decreased EMG

-      decreased tetanus


FATIGUE CHARACTERISTICS: no significant change in voluntary isometric, dynamic or evoked fatigue characteristics Why? If atrophy occurs, decrease in SDH?



tensile strength of a muscle decreases with immobilization; important consideration for ROM exercises


EFFECTS ON BONE: loss of bone mass and size


EFFECT ON LIGAMENTS AND TENDONS: decreased tensile strength and thickness


EFFECT ON JOINTS:degeneration and atrophy of articular cartilage and joint stiffness; may be due to a lack of joint loading and movement


Training Strategies for Neuromuscular Adaptations:


1) Isometric Contractions: debatable effectiveness; possibly related to contraction intensity; submaximal do not activate high threshold MU; decisive factors: Mobility Fatigue


2) Electrical Stimulation more consistent results alterations in motor unit recruitment?


3) Answer: Combine isometric contractions and E-stim normal recruitment pattern and activation of high threshold motor units


4) Cross education: in healthy subjects contralateral limb strength increases 15%

no research on immobilized


5) Stretch; increased protein degradation with lack of stretch, thus need to activate stretch receptors

6) Imagery: Yue and Cole study;

Imagined contractions increased force of abductor digiti minimi by 20% versus 30% increase with training

no research on immobilized


Post-Immobilization Strategies :

Extensive early rehab may not provide greater benefits

Most studies have not included a control group

Some animal studies have shown decreased responses with greater volume of early rehabilitation


Most important variable: INTENSITY

Training Specificity:


Contraction type

   Concentric: least number of crossbridges greatest crossbridge cycling rate

   Isometric: greatest number of crossbridges

   Eccentric: greatest number of crossbridges Altered recruitment patterns Less MU recruited / load results in Greater tension / muscle fibres



Velociy Specificity

Strength gains are accrued at or near the training velocity with decreased benefits as the training velocity deviates from the testing velocity

Early studies emphasized movement speed

Behm and Sale 1993 suggested most important factor is CONTRACTION SPEED

Importance related to: Specificity Firing frequency (neural adaptation); Motor control (ie ballistic contractions).

Other Rehab Considerations: Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises

Biofeedback or Visual feedback



Summary of Techniques


During Immobilization

ROM and stretch Isometric

contractions with electrical stimulation

Training of contralateral limb




Variety of isometric angles

Dynamic concentric and eccentric contractions

Higher speed contractions moving to ballistic

Closed Kinetic chain

Bio or visual feedback



Spontaneous recovery:evidence of both complete and incomplete recovery - Why?; joint mechanics; altered lifestyle; insufficient rehabilitation; inability for full muscle recovery


Post-immobilization Training:in animals, training accelerates muscle function; in humans, some similar evidence but a lack of control groups; factors - intensity, volume, onset of training

Osteoarthritis: increase in % of ST fibres


Muscle Transplantation:ischemic necrosis followed by regeneration; effect of exercise; no beneficial effect of early intervention





Isometric Training:submaximal contraction due to pain inhibition?


Electrical Stimulation: reverse order of recruitment; analgesic effect; compliance