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Muscle Atrophy- Causes, symptoms, and treatments

What is muscle atrophy?

Muscle atrophy occurs when the body loses its skeletal muscle mass or tissue. Various factors, from a lack of regular physical exercise to immobility due to an injury or poor nutrition, genetics, consumption of certain medications, or suffering from various medical conditions, can contribute to this condition. Physical immobility eventually leads to the wastage of muscle, and this condition leads to muscle weakness and sometimes disability. However, the wastage of muscle can be reversed in some cases through proper diet, regular exercise, and physical therapy.

What are the symptoms of muscle atrophy?

Apart from the wastage of muscle mass, the other visible symptoms of muscle atrophy include:

  • One of the arms or legs may appear smaller than the other.
  • Weakness in one limb, leading to a difficulty or lack of ability in performing physical tasks (depends on the muscles that are affected)
  • Difficulty in balancing, which can affect standing from a seated position, walking, or climbing the stairs leading to increased falls

What are the causes of muscle atrophy?

Muscle atrophy can be caused by several reasons, including:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Lack of balanced diet  
  • Aging leads to reduced production of proteins that promote muscle growth. 
  • Genetics
  • Burns and injuries, like a torn rotator cuff or broken bones
  • Stroke
  • Disorders of the central or the peripheral nervous system
  • Cachexia that causes loss of muscles and drastic weight loss

Certain medical and chronic conditions that can bring about muscle atrophy include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, damages the motor nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement.
  • Dermatomyositis, which leads to weakness in the muscles and skin rash.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune condition that brings about nerve inflammation and muscle weakness.
  • Multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system, causing inflammation in the nerve fibers.
  • Muscular dystrophy, a hereditary condition that causes weakness in the muscles.
  • Neuropathy, a condition that causes damage to a nerve or nerve group, resulting in loss of function or sensation.
  • Osteoarthritis, a medical condition that causes reduced motion in the joints.
  • Polio, a viral disease that attacks the nervous system, which might lead to permanent paralysis.
  • Polymyositis, an inflammatory muscle disease.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory autoimmune condition that affects the joints causing pain and stiffness.
  • Spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition causing arm and leg muscles to decline.

How is muscle atrophy diagnosed?

If muscle atrophy is the result of a disease or condition, the person may need to undergo tests to identify the condition. The general physician or medical practitioner will ask for a comprehensive medical history, in addition to the following:

  • Describe old or recent injuries and previously identified medical conditions.
  • Make a list of prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and supplements currently being consumed.
  • Present a complete account of the symptoms.

The physician can ask for tests to aid with the diagnosis and to rule out the presence of some diseases. The tests can include:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan
  • Nerve conduction studies
  • Muscle or nerve biopsy
  • Electromyography (EMG)

The person might be referred to a specialist by the physician based on the results of the tests.

How is muscle atrophy treated?

The treatment for muscle atrophy depends on the existence of any underlying medical condition and the magnitude of muscle loss. Some of the treatments for muscle atrophy are as follows:

  • Physical therapy: Performing particular stretches and exercises can aid in reducing immobility. It also increases muscle strength, improves circulation, and decreases spasticity, which causes continuous contraction of the muscles.
  • Ultrasound therapy: It is a procedure of taking beams of ultrasound energy that stimulate contractions in atrophied muscle tissue in particular parts of the body.
  • Surgery: Surgical procedures can correct contracture deformity if muscle atrophy is caused by malnutrition and might enhance muscle function in people if their muscle atrophy is connected to neurological conditions or injuries.
  • Exercises: Water exercises are advised to aid in making movement comfortable.

If malnutrition is the cause of the condition, the person may be advised to make changes to their diet with certain supplements.

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Conclusion

Muscle atrophy is typically a result of not being able to exercise the muscles frequently. It is the condition in which there is a remarkable shortening of the muscle fibers, and the body loses its skeletal muscle mass. There are many causes of this, and it can be treated or prevented with good nutrition and a proper exercise regimen in addition to getting the necessary treatment for the underlying condition if any.

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