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If you’ve ever worked out too hard, you understand that the pain of temporary muscle damage is the price you pay. If you are not fit, or if your muscles are very weak to begin with, the threshold for that damage may be very low.
Manning J. Sabatier, PhD, CSCS, wants to understand how such injury affects the ability to activate skeletal muscles. “Some people with more vulnerable muscles are using exercise as a way to stave off chronic disease, and other people recovering from an injury are using exercise as a form of rehabilitation,” says Sabatier, who is an avid runner and exercise enthusiast himself. “We want to know if the exercise we are prescribing is causing patients to activate their muscles in ways that are not appropriate.”
In his Exercise and Neuroscience lab, Sabatier uses measurements and techniques from exercise physiology, neurophysiology and biomechanics to assess a subject’s spinal reflexes and normal walking pattern. He then has the subject exercise to the point of inducing temporary muscle injury and he re-assesses both.
“I’m trying to detect just how muscle activation patterns change after muscle injury, and if there are corresponding changes in sensory feedback,” he says. The increasing prevalence of physical inactivity means more and more people are unfit and less resilient to muscle injury from exercise. This is particularly true for older adults, people using statins to curtail cholesterol levels (statins increase the risk for exercise-related muscle injury) and people rehabilitating after stroke. Sabatier’s current studies will provide the necessary foundation to guide future studies that address the needs of vulnerable populations.
So far he’s found more disruption in muscle activity while walking in a way that imposes more muscle stretching… that is, walking down slope. Muscle activation remains normal for walking on an incline or on level ground. The ultimate goal of Sabatier’s research is to develop exercise training strategies that exploit plasticity in the neuromuscular system to re-establish normal control of muscle and minimize dysfunction.
To learn more about Sabatier, see the Faculty section of this newsletter.