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Alcohol Consumption Delays Recovery from Injury

Update Date: Dec 13, 2012 01:34 PM EST

A new study by a researcher from Massey University suggests that consumption of alcohol after suffering an injury can extend the healing time of the wound.

According to the study by lecturer Dr. Matt Barnes, who graduated with a PhD in Palmerston North, drinking alcohol when one has a soft tissue injury significantly increases recovery time.

Barnes carried out several studies to investigate the link between alcohol and muscle recovery.

In one study, the participants carried out intense exercise that damaged a muscle and then consumed alcohol equivalent to seven standard drinks for an average male. In another occasion, the participants consumed orange juice instead of alcohol. When the recovery of the damaged muscle was tracked by the researcher over the next three days, it was found that alcohol consumption clearly slowed recovery when compared to orange juice.

"We found it is not the alcohol that is making a person weaker," Dr. Barnes says. "There is something going on between the alcohol and the damaged muscle. The alcohol interacts with the damaged tissue in some way."

In a second study, the alcohol consumed was reduced to half the amount. "That lower dose had no effect on the force the participants could exert following muscle damage," he says according to Medical Xpress.

"That indicates we need to do more work to find out if there is a threshold where alcohol becomes detrimental to recovery."

In the third study, the researcher investigated further on how alcohol influenced recovery with the help of electrical stimulation which contracted the damaged leg muscle.

"This bypasses the brain to make the muscle contract and tells us what is going on at the muscle 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."

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

"This suggests that 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 associated with a higher sensitivity of pain, even though more research needs to be done in order to establish this theory.

According to Dr. Barnes, the findings of this research are the first to have causally linked alcohol consumption and delayed 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 added. 

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