The ability to develop muscle force rapidly may be a very important factor to prevent a fall and to perform other tasks of daily life. However, information is still lacking on the range of training-induced neuromuscular adaptations in elderly humans recovering from a period of disuse. Therefore, the present study examined the effect of three types of training regimes after unilateral prolonged disuse and subsequent hip-replacement surgery on maximal muscle strength, rapid muscle force [rate of force development (RFD)], muscle activation, and muscle size. Thirty-six subjects (60-86 yr) were randomized to a 12-wk rehabilitation program consisting of either 1) strength training (3 times/wk for 12 wk), 2) electrical muscle stimulation (1 h/day for 12 wk), or 3) standard rehabilitation (1 h/day for 12 wk). The nonoperated side did not receive any intervention and thereby served as a within-subject control. Thirty subjects completed the trial. In the strength-training group, significant increases were observed in maximal isometric muscle strength (24%, P < 0.01), contractile RFD (26-45%, P < 0.05), and contractile impulse (27-32%, P < 0.05). No significant changes were seen in the two other training groups or in the nontrained legs of all three groups. Mean electromyogram signal amplitude of vastus lateralis was larger in the strength-training than in the standard-rehabilitation group at 5 and 12 wk (P < 0.05). In contrast to traditional physiotherapy and electrical stimulation, strength training increased muscle mass, maximal isometric strength, RFD, and muscle activation in elderly men and women recovering from long-term muscle disuse and subsequent hip surgery. The improvement in both muscle mass and neural function is likely to have important functional implications for elderly individuals.
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