Next time knee pain, a bad back, or shoulder soreness has you sidelined, try this simple strategy to slow muscle atrophy

By Mirel Ketchiff
Updated: December 01, 2014
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Any fitness lover will tell you there's no greater pain in the world than an injury. And it's not just the throbbing ache of a sprained ankle, pulled muscle, or (say it isn't so) stress fracture that drags you down. Being confined to the couch also means you miss your regular endorphin rush, which can leave you feeling grumpy or restless. Plus, you're burning fewer calories than usual, and that can translate into stalled weight loss or weight gain. (The latter can be avoided, with these tips on How to Avoid Gaining Weight When You're Injured.)

So we were thrilled to hear that there's an easy way to help minimize the muscle-weakening effects of a forced fitness break. What do you do? It's as simple as relaxing your injured body part, then imagining contracting and flexing the impaired muscles for a few minutes five times a week, suggests research from the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Adults with immobilized arms who performed this mental exercise retained more muscle strength than those who didn't. It's possible that the imagery technique activates the cortex, an area of the brain that controls muscle movement, to delay disuse-triggered weakness. But you don't need to just think about exercising when you're down and out. You can move too! Read about How Shape's Fitness Director Jaclyn Emerick Overcame an Injury-and why she can't wait to get back to fitness.

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