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Muscle atrophy: what you need to know

Medical Daily logo Medical Daily 2/6/2019 Jan Cortes

Muscle atrophy, which is characterized by a decrease in muscle mass, is a condition that can incapacitate a person for a long period of time if left untreated. Usually, it occurs after long periods of inactivity. That’s because if a muscle isn’t being used for a certain period, the body will decide to break it down to make way for energy conservation.

Normally, people who suffer from muscle atrophy treat it through lifestyle changes, physical therapy, or in some cases, surgery.

But in case you’re wondering how muscle atrophy happens, here are some of its common causes:

Poor nutrition. A diet that is low in fruits, vegetables and lean protein can lead to muscle mass reduction, warns the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

Genetics. Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a disorder  that causes a loss of motor nerve cells and muscle atrophy. It is usually inherited. The condition currently has two categories: SMA linked to chromosome 5, which can develop at any point in life; and SMA not linked to chromosome 5.

Age. At some point in our lives, age will catch up to us,, and this would mean fewer proteins that help promote muscle growth. This becomes a condition called sarcopenia, which affects up to a third of people 60 and above.

Meanwhile, here are some of the known symptoms of muscle atrophy:

  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Having difficulty in balancing
  • Weakness in a specific limb
  • Having an arm or a leg that’s smaller or shorter than the other
  • Being inactive for an extended period of time

Thankfully, there are various treatments available nowadays, and they vary depending on how much muscle mass is lost and if there are other underlying conditions. These include:

Surgery. When the muscle atrophy is related to malnutrition or injury, surgery is usually needed.

Functional electrical stimulation (FES). This method uses electrical impulses to stimulate the muscles, triggering movement.

Physical therapy. The most common treatment for muscle atrophy, physical treatment usually involves stretching and other forms of exercises to help reduce any immobility.

Focused ultrasound therapy. This last one is still in the development phase, although it aims to deliver ultrasound beams to affected muscles in the body to stimulate contractions and movement.

a man standing on a dirt road © Jenny Hill/Unsplash

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