Muscle atrophy: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

    Muscle atrophy refers to the loss of muscle mass. It can emerge after a period of physical inactivity. An injury or a disease can make it difficult to move your arm or leg and this lack of mobility can make your arm or leg appear smaller. Due to prolonged bed rest or immobilization of a limb, muscle atrophy can occur rapidly. 


    Common causes of muscle atrophy


    1. Age: Aging comes with major changes in body composition resulting in a progressive decrease in muscle mass and strength. The loss of muscle mass is known as sarcopenia. Less muscle may lead to less mobility and greater weakness, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures. People with sarcopenia are more at the risk of having a low-trauma fracture from a fall, such as a broken hip, collarbone, leg, arm, or wrist.
    2. Poor nutrition: A diet that is low in fruits, lean protein, and vegetables can significantly reduce muscle mass, as nutrients and proteins are necessary for normal muscle development and function. 
    3. Neurological disease: An injury or condition can damage the nerves that control the muscles. Neurological conditions such as neuropathy, cerebral palsy, stroke, or spinal cord disease, can lead to muscle weakness of the face, arms, or legs. The lack of stimulation can cause the muscles to become much thinner. 
    4. Genetics: Genetic disorders such as spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) can cause progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. It is usually inherited. Two forms of SMA, type IV, and Finkel type happen in adulthood, usually after age 30. 


    Medical conditions


    There are various medical conditions that contribute to muscle atrophy: 


    1. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): It is a progressive disease, that affects nerves in your brain and spinal cord that controls the muscles. 

    2. MS: It is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, causing harmful inflammation in the nerve fibers.
    3. Myositis: The term myositis means inflammation of the muscles that can cause them to become weak, tired, and painful. It can affect people of any age, including children. The condition largely affects muscles around the shoulders, hips, and thighs.


    Symptoms that occur with muscle atrophy


    In general, people with muscle atrophy experience loss of muscle strength and movement. Here is a list of symptoms that affect the neuromuscular system:


    • Balance problems, difficulty in walking, and falls
    • Difficulty with speaking and swallowing
    • Impaired balance and coordination
    • Facial weakness
    • Loss of muscle coordination
    • Numbness or tingling in arms or legs
    • Progressive loss of movement
    • Gradual difficulty in walking and speaking
    • Progressive weakness and numbness in the legs
    • Tingling, vision problems, unsteady walk, and fatigue


    How is muscle atrophy diagnosed?


    Some of the tests that can help you with the diagnosis:

    • X-rays
    • Blood tests
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan
    • Nerve conduction studies
    • Muscle or nerve biopsy
    • Electromyography (EMG)



    The treatment aims to reduce the symptoms of the condition and make it more comfortable for the patient. The treatment will depend on the severity of the muscle loss. Common treatments for muscle atrophy include:


    1. Nutrition: Nutrition plays a key role when it comes to muscle recovery. By adding particular foods and drinks to your diet, including whey protein, fatty fish, cherry juice, you can speed up muscle recovery. 
    2. Compression therapy: Compression stockings and garments help reduce muscle soreness and promote muscle recovery. There are a wide range of compression stockings available to determine the amount of compression you need. 
    3. Thermal therapy: The therapy uses superficial heat and reduces pain, improves blood circulation, and promotes healing. 
    4. Foam rolling: It means rolling out your muscles with a piece of hard foam and alleviating muscle fatigue and soreness.



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