When your muscles waste away, physicians classify the condition as “muscle atrophy”.
There are many reasons, but the main reason for muscle wasting is a lack of physical activity.
It usually happens due to a disease or injury that makes it impossible for you to move.
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Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms are easy to spot, on ourselves, and on others as well.
Muscles become weak and will eventually atrophy.
The signs of atrophy from disuse are usually flabby muscles.
Signs and symptoms of neurogenic muscle atrophy are a bit more challenging and difficult for recognizing 1.
Physicians classify it as “postural muscle weakness”.
But that is just a term that needs more clarifying.
The simplest explanation is postural muscles are those which help us to stand erect.
Therefore, one of the first signs is a stooped posture.
Back pain, walking problems, hamstring contractures, limited range of neck motions, all of these are signs and symptoms of neurogenic atrophy.
Causes of Muscle Atrophy
Let’s list some of the more common conditions that are known to cause muscle wasting.
- Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder that occurs when your peripheral nerves malfunction due to damage
- Polio is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks our body’s nervous system
- Muscle sclerosis is a mysterious condition, but doctors know it causes atrophy and waste
- Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that results in severe weight loss. Due to the weight loss, your muscles lose mass and become atrophied
- Osteomalacia is weakening of the bones leading to severe and serious health complications
- Slipped or herniated disc can occur in any part of the spine, starting from the neck to the lower back
- Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too much calcium in the blood
- The Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is one in which the infection causes the brain to degenerate. That results in degeneration of other muscles as well
- Axillary nerve dysfunction is a loss of movement or sensation in the shoulder area
- Type 2 diabetes can also lead to atrophied muscles, patients develop contracture of digits and limbs as a result of soft tissue thickening
- ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a degenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The result is loss of control of voluntary muscles
- Malabsorption syndrome refers to a number of conditions due to which the small intestine is unable to absorb enough nutrients. Without the right nutrients, your muscles weaken
The most common traditional and conventional treatment is hypertrophy or an increase in muscle size.
Muscle hypertrophy involves an increase in size of skeletal muscles through a growth in size of its component cells.
Hydroxymethyl butyrate, a metabolite of leucine can also help in preventing loss of muscle mass in several muscle-wasting conditions.
The product is sold as a dietary supplement.
In cases of severe muscle atrophy, anabolic steroids can be utilized to promote muscle growth.
Amino acid therapy can be helpful in regenerating damaged and atrophied muscle tissue.
Absence of amino acids often contributes to muscle wasting.
An important rehabilitation tool is use of functional electrical stimulation to stimulate the muscles.
Can you exercise?
When it comes to exercise, it depends on the type of atrophy you have 4.
Same as the regular and traditional treatment.
For example, disuse atrophy is more common in office workers.
They get little exercise sitting all day, and a good idea is to try sitting on a fitness ball 5.
This will incorporate new movements into your day, and tone your core muscles.
If atrophied muscles are a result of aging, which is only a natural consequence, there is also something you can do.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests exercises such as squeezing tennis ball and other that increase grip strength.
Arthritis can also trigger disuse atrophy as patients become inactive or spend a lot of time in bed.
According to studies, atrophy starts within four hours after bed rest commences 6.
The most difficult type of muscle atrophy to heal, however, is neurogenic atrophy.
This is when nerves connected to the muscles are injured or diseased.
However, even in such case, there are exercises you can try.
The goal here is to try special types of assisted exercises, like cycling, walking on a treadmill, and exercising in a swimming pool.
All of these can restore muscle tone and improve general health.
Step by Step Guide to Build muscles back up
There is no way to completely reverse muscle wasting.
Once your muscles begin to waste away, there is no reversing it 7.
Same as aging.
What you can do is slow down the process.
The goal is to make your muscle as good as possible.
And if you notice signs and symptoms of atrophy, try to build your muscles back up as much as possible.
Step 1 – Isometric exercises
The goal with isometric exercises is to improve your circulation.
They will also increase strength in the atrophied muscle.
This type of exercises includes contracting the muscle for few seconds at a time.
Gradually increase the contraction time and repetitions.
Step 2 – Motion exercises
The second step in building muscles back up is range of motion exercises involving joint movement.
However, there is no outside resistance.
For example, you can sit in a chair and straighten your leg to engage the atrophied muscles.
The good news is that motion exercises can be performed several times per day to improve blood flowing.
Step 3 – Add some resistance
Once you’ve completed step one and two of the journey, it is time to add some resistance.
Add light resistance like small weights or resistance tubing.
This will help you rebuild the lost muscle mass.
Make sure to add resistance gradually.
If you add too much too quickly, you risk another injury.
Step 4 – Complete the progress
As you progress slowly through each phase, it is time now add more resistance.
Now that your body can accept some resistance and work through it, it is time to add more in the form of heavier free weights or weight machines.
At this point, you should also include more functional movements into your program.