What are the causes of Muscle Atrophy

February 1, 2016

    I have a home bound client whom I see two times a week. Mary is a 75 year old retired school teacher who was vibrant and active in her day. Over the years Mary has become more sedentary frequently spending a lot of time in bed or sitting at her computer playing games. This sedentary lifestyle has caused her legs to be less functional than they used to be. This lack of function restricts not only her movement but, it also effects her social life and the ability for her to go into her living area downstairs to relax and watch t.v. So now your probably wondering how this could happen after all 75 isn't really old... and why is this information important for me? 

 Muscle Atrophy

     Muscle atrophy is the wasting away or loss of muscle tissue. When muscles are no longer in use, they slowly become weak and eventually begin to shrink. In some cases, disuse atrophy can be reversed if the muscles become active again.There are other causes too which cause this syndrome. They include injury, aging, alcohol associated myopathy (which would be pain or weakness in muscles due to excessive drinking over a time period), burns, malnutrition, stroke or spinal cord injury. Having one limb shorter than the other can also cause some atrophy. Muscle atrophy also occurs when a limb is immobilized like having your arm or leg in a cast for extended periods of time. Major diseases affecting the nerves that control muscles are: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), Guillain-Barre syndrome, Neuropathy and Polio (poliomyelitis). People can adapt to muscle atrophy, but even minor muscle atrophy usually causes some loss of movement or strength. 

When should I be concerned?

   If your having unexplained or long-term muscle loss or unusual clumsiness such as dropping things or tripping while walking. When your getting up and out of a chair and you find that your legs can no longer support you. Also if you noticing one arm or leg becomes shorter than the other. 

Is there a cure?

   The mode of treatment may vary widely depending on the symptoms and intensity of the disease. The most common cure for disuse is using those muscles more often. Begin with normal physical activity like  getting up, moving around, lifting and carrying. Dedicating yourself to regular exercise can reverse this disorder and stimulate the muscles to regrow as long as the nerves are intact and connected to the muscles as well as a well-nourished body. Body builders like Arnold Schwarzenegger go through extremes to build muscle then as soon as they stop working out, their muscles shrink back to normal size.  Anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids are prescribed for decreasing inflammation and pain when one is  suffering from nerve compression. Chiropractor therapy and stretching exercises may be recommended for curing muscle atrophy due to nerve issues to reduce nerve compression. Medical professionals are concerned that many people are not remaining active and mobile on a regular basis due to long periods of time sitting in a car or at home which are  major contributors to this syndrome.

Loss of Muscle with Arthritis

    Another way that muscle atrophy can develop is from lack of physical activity due to joint pain and limited range of motion.  Arthritis pain leads to decreased physical activity, which can lead to muscle atrophy. Over time this vicious cycle can hamper movement.

Your Action Plan

    Make sure you eat right. While results are inconclusive as to whether eating more protein can prevent muscle loss, a balanced diet does help to ensure that muscles get the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals they need to build and stay strong. Start early because we can’t control aging. A recent study found that recreational athletes who consistently worked out four to five times each week were able to "freeze" levels of muscle mass as they aged. Try to work out hard when your at the gym building those muscles as strong as possible. Loss occurs gradually, the fitter the muscle, the longer it will take to hit ground zero.

   To stay healthy, active and vibrant we must be vigilant in our quest for regular exercise. So start exercising today to maintain what muscle mass you have now and in your future...