Study proves alcohol slows injury recovery

People consuming alcohol after suffering a soft tissue injury would take longer time to recover, according to a recent study.

Dr Matt Barnes, Lecturer at the School of Sport and Exercise, who obtained his PhD from Massey University Palmerston North recently, carried out a number of studies and found a link between alcohol and muscle recovery.

According to him, the studies were the first to demonstrate a causal link between alcohol consumption and recovery from muscle damage.

“While injured athletes have been told to avoid alcohol for some time, we now have actual proof about why it is important to do so,” he said.

Longer suffering

One of his studies required participants to carry our intense exercise that damaged a muscle. Some of them later consumed alcohol equivalent to seven standard drinks for an average male, while others were given orange juice.

Dr Barnes then tested the strength of the damaged muscle over three days for any loss in force and discovered that alcohol slowed recovery compared to orange juice.

“We found it was not alcohol that was making a person weaker. There was something going on between alcohol and the damaged muscle. Alcohol interacts with the damaged tissue in some way,” he said.

During the next study, Dr Barnes reduced the amount of alcohol to half the quantity and found that the lower dose did not affect the force that the participants could exert following muscle damage.

“We need to do more work to find out if there is a threshold where alcohol becomes detrimental to recovery,” he said.

Electrical simulation

A third study examined the influence of alcohol over recovery through electrical stimulation to contract the damaged leg muscle.

“This bypassed the brain to make the muscle contract and told us what was going on without any influence from the brain. We used this technique in conjunction with voluntary activation of the muscle, and then compared the force produced by the two methods,” Dr Barnes said.

He found that the force the participants exerted voluntarily was reduced, while the force generated by electrical stimulation was unchanged.

“When combined with damage to the muscle, alcohol brings about a decrease in central nervous system activity. You think you are pushing as hard as you can, but in fact, you are not. Something is limiting the amount of force you are producing. This could be linked to an increased feeling of pain, but more research is required to prove this,” he said.

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