When you think of an injury, what is the most common remedy? Is it ice? Elevation? Do you just decide to rest? These are some of the most common things we are told to do when we first get an injury, forming the well-known acronym RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. While all these can be effective in decreasing pain, inflammation and beginning the healing process, sometimes there is a better and more effective way. In this blog I want to provide education on an additional method: isometrics.
What is an isometric? Basically, an isometric contraction means we are contracting a muscle(s) but not changing the length of that muscle group. When you first have an injury, swelling commonly occurs. Due to the inflammation and tenderness of the area, movement of the joint/body part can be bothersome and potentially make the injury worse. The goal of an isometric is to promote blood flow via light, pain free muscle contraction to begin the healing process. Let’s use a bicep curl for an example. If you want to build your biceps, most likely you will do a bicep curl of some sort. Say you are having elbow pain and you cannot tolerate a bicep curl with a 10lb weight. An isometric to engage the bicep musculature would be bending your elbow to about 90 degrees, place your opposite hand on your forearm, and then push into your hand but don’t let you elbow move from this position. Try this right now as you are reading this blog, you will feel your bicep contract. This can be effective if you are having elbow pain or if you are feeling tightness/pain in the actual bicep itself.
The main goal with any injury is to decrease inflammation and restore range of motion/strength as soon as possible while respecting the healing process. Inflammation occurs after an injury because your body is trying to send blood and healing factors to the site of injury to begin the healing process. If an area is swollen, this will most likely correlate with pain and limited strength/range of motion. Less inflammation typically leads to less pain and more mobility. Isometrics are a great way to actively encourage blood flow, decrease pain, and begin to restore mobility. You are also strengthening the musculature by performing a contraction so this can help speed up your recovery. So next time you twist your ankle, hurt your shoulder or have a stiff neck, try out isometric contractions in addition to other healing remedies.
*Disclaimer: some injuries are more serious than others and you may want to avoid any muscle contraction at all. The RICE protocol can still be effective as well for most acute injuries. I am a personal fan of using compression in the early stages of an injury to decrease pain/swelling and promote healing. Always consult your physical therapist, primary care physician or give us a call at Streamline if you have a serious injury*