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Muscle Atrophy

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Disuse of muscles leads to their breakdown, giving rise to a condition called muscle dystrophy. Exercising has proven to reverse the breakdown of muscles in some cases. In many, it turns into a serious problem.

What is Muscle Atrophy?

The wasting of muscles due to lack of physical activity. This is very common in people who are bedridden or are not able to use their limbs due to an injury. People who live a sedentary life or have a sedentary job, also find a decrease in their muscle tone. Astronauts too develop loss of muscle tone and calcium from their bones due to weightlessness in space.

Neurogenic atrophy is one of the most serious types of muscle atrophy. In this condition, the nerves connected to the muscles are injured or diseased. This leads to many serious conditions such as polio, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), polio, etc.

What Causes Muscle Atrophy?

Lack of movement as well as muscle use can lead to muscle atrophy. Some of the causes of muscle atrophy or disuse of muscles include:

  • Bedridden patient
  • Fracture of the arm or leg that causes immobilization
  • Malnutrition
  • Inherited disorder that causes progressive loss of muscle tissue, that is, muscular dystrophy
  • Polymositis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Polymyositis
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Alcohol myopathy
  • Spinal cord atrophy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Amyothrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Long term corticosteroid theraphy
  • Burns

Symptoms of Muscle Atrophy

Symptoms of muscle atrophy include:

  • Weakness in muscles that causes problems during basic tasks such as lifting, holding, or sitting for long time.
  • Skin starts stretching due to the weight of the affected muscles that hang in a manner that is not normal.
  • Inability to stand upright or hold the body in its normal position. Muscle atrophy will lead to loss of posture due to muscle damage.
  • Stiffness, lack of movement, limited range of neck motion, rigidity in spine are all indications of muscle atrophy.
  • One of the arms or legs appears smaller than the other arm or leg.
  • Weakness in one limb.

Diagnosis of Muscle Atrophy

The doctor will conduct a complete medical examination and take your medical history. He will advise blood tests and X-rays to rule out other similar conditions. Other tests that help diagnose muscle atrophy include:

  • MRI
  • CT Scan
  • Muscle biopsy
  • Nerve biopsy
  • Electromyography (EMG)

Treatment for Muscle Atrophy

In most cases, muscle atrophy can be reversed with the help of exercise. However, it is very difficult to treat muscle atrophy in completely bedridden patients. The treatment for muscle atrophy depends on the severity of the condition as well as any other disease affecting the patient. Some of the common ways to treat muscle atrophy include:

  • Exercise that help increase the muscle mass.
  • Functional electrical stimulation where electrical currents helps in activation of the nerves that are injured or damaged due to paralysis, spinal cord injury, stroke, etc.
  • Amino acid therapy for regeneration of damaged or atrophied muscles
  • Surgery to resolve contracture deformity, that is, a condition that causes tightening of the muscles, ligaments, skin or tendons, thus affecting movement.

People who notice muscle atrophy should immediately contact their doctor. Exercise may be the only treatment that you may require to reverse the process. If the condition is allowed to progress, it may become difficult to treat. Thus, it is better to observe caution if one is unable to use their muscles for a long time due to injury or any other problem.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 15, 2015