Immobilization for longer periods has a pathological impact on the body. This can induce muscular atrophy. Although short immobilization along with losing of muscle mass can be beneficial, yet constant loss of it could lead to serious health problems like muscular atrophy and it could be difficult to regain normal health later.

Muscular Atrophy

Muscular atrophy is defined as the degeneration of muscle mass which results in rapid wasting of muscles.

Causes Of Muscular Atrophy

Muscular Atrophy or wastage of muscle occurs due to no or limited use of muscles, neurological problems or due to mal-nutrition related causes.

Muscular Atrophy could be genetic for some, and for some there might be a sudden onset due to poor nutrition. It might also occur due to the several other serious co-morbid diseases or disorders like Cancer, HIV, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), congenital heart disease, severe burns in the body and also renal failure. Extreme starvation could also cause muscle atrophy.

Often people might develop muscular atrophy or muscle atrophy following a prolonged period of immobility due to a chronic disease or a fracture. The immobile state of the muscle stimulates the wastage process of the muscle. As the muscle atrophy increases, many patients might experience rapid falls during walking. This might cause fractures. The rate of wastage can increase following an immobile state thus making the situation worse for them.

Signs And Symptoms Of Muscular Atrophy

  • Muscle Damage: A stooped posture due to muscle damage is prominent over time. Though initially it might not be noticed, but difficulty in standing or sitting straight is the most common experienced symptom.
  • Weak Muscle: The muscle loses its strength, becomes flabby, and also loses its tone making it hanging out of its position. Even basic exercises, lifting objects or simply sitting becomes extremely difficult for patients with muscular atrophy.
  • Pain: Movements like walking, or simple moving of hands could be painful for the patients. Pain in patients with muscular atrophy is very common and they frequently experience it.
  • Stroke and Heart Attack: In extremes of cases, it might be difficult for the heart to pump blood. In case you feel a sudden increase in the heart rate or weakness with a slight physical activity, immediately contact the physician.

Does Muscular Atrophy Cause Pain?

Muscle pain in Muscular Atrophy patients is seen very frequently. Due to the wastage of muscle in these patients, they need to exert more energy and pressure than normal to do simple tasks like moving the hand or simply sitting erect. The excess strain on the weakened muscle starts to hurt them resulting in the increased pain. On the other hand, the patients cannot be asked to keep the muscles in a resting state for a long period of time since this prolonged immobilization would increase the rate of wastage. However, this continuous working of the muscle again increases the pain making it a vicious cycle.

Patients with muscular atrophy can also experience generalized pain or joint pain throughout the body due to the progressive muscle wastage. Moreover, due to the change in posture, the patients might also develop lordosis or kyphosis of the spine making it more difficult for them to move. This change in the shape of the spine can again cause a lot of associated pain in them.

Treatments For Muscular Atrophy

The treatment for muscular atrophy or muscle atrophy would mainly focus on the activity of the muscle, strengthening, and relieving of pain. The treatment plan is generally individualized. A single therapy or a combination of few would depend on the patient condition. The therapies for muscular atrophy would include the following:

  • Physical Therapy for Muscular Atrophy: These would generally include exercises for muscle strengthening. The primary aim of physiotherapy for Muscular Atrophy would be to strengthen the already weakened muscle and also the other muscles of the body and to maintain the strength of the rest of the muscles which are yet not affected. However, one very important thing to remember while taking a therapy is that the exercises should not be of muscle stretching. Since the muscles lose their tone they are already in a stretched or loosened or hyper-relaxed state. Further stretching would deteriorate the condition.
  • Medications for Muscular Atrophy: Common medications might include those of pain relief. Other medications might include those of various vitamins essential for the muscles to keep going and to maintain the body strength and improve the immune system.
  • Electrotherapy for Muscular Atrophy: Many patients with muscular atrophy need electrotherapy to stimulate the muscle activity. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is required for many if the muscle atrophy is advanced and even slight moving of the muscle is difficult without assistance. This will also help reduce the pain. However, it should be followed by movements of muscles to ensure a better result.
  • Day-to-day Activities: For patients whose disability due to muscular atrophy has increased and they are almost bedridden, even taking part in day-to-day activities could help them well. Rolling on the bed, taking things from the sides and even simple tasks like folding clothes, chopping vegetables, squeezing things could help them in gaining the strength.
  • Alternative Therapies: Therapies like acupuncture and acupressure, chiropractor massage can help relieve the pain. Movement therapy would also be helpful since it is extremely individualized, can incorporate slow to fast movements with the increase in capacity and also helps in expression of emotions of loneliness, depression associated with the disorder and give them better relieve. Even patients of wheelchair can take part in a movement therapy session. A group therapy could do wonders by enhancing the social skills of these patients as well.

Additional Treatment For Patients With Extreme Muscle Atrophy

Breathing exercises are also very important for the whole body. Apart from treatment options for Muscular Atrophy mentioned above, patients suffering from extreme atrophy need to incorporate few more exercises in their regimen. For patients with extreme muscle atrophies, the vital organs i.e., heart and lungs might have a reduction in the capacity to work. Lung capacities might reduce drastically and even the heart might experience difficulty in pumping blood due to the atrophy in the heart muscle. Thus a holistic body approach is very important in preventing the disorder from worsening. Many patients might also require therapeutic aids like splints, crutches, wheelchairs to move around. Home modifications might be required for some patients.

Diet For Muscular Atrophy Patients

Another very important thing to remember when dealing with muscular atrophy is diet. Since the muscle goes for wastage, it is very important to provide constant nutrition to keep them going.

Here is what the diet for muscular atrophy should include:

  • Higher Protein Intake To Reduce Muscle Atrophy: A protein rich diet is the key for a healthy muscle for all. Improving the muscle quality, development of new muscle fibers and preserving of muscles will only happen with a good, nutritious and protein rich diet. A 2009 study concluded that increased intake of amino acids reduces muscular atrophy. Another study in 2009 indicated the increased benefits of protein intake just after physical exercise which helps in reducing atrophy.
  • Intake Of Healthy Fat Can Delay Atrophy: The hormone testosterone produced in the body is responsible for muscle growth and their retention. Low levels of this hormone can increase atrophy of muscles in the body. It is found that fat intake of lower than 15-20% reduces the testosterone levels, where just a little higher fat diet of 20-25% can increase the testosterone levels and delay atrophy. Thus experts suggest a minimum of 20% fat diet intake to keep the hormones to its desired level and you can prevent rapid atrophy of muscles.
  • Calories Required To Prevent Atrophy: Studies have proved that even people who live a sedentary lifestyle needs adequate calories to maintain the muscle mass. A huge drop in the calorie level can lead to muscular atrophy. According to researchers, men and women need atleast 2000 calories and 1600 calories per day respectively.

Since there is neither a definite treatment established yet for muscular atrophy patients and nor is there a definite cure for it, the only focus of the whole treatment lies on preventing further damage, delaying the process of muscle wastage with increased activity, increasing the muscle strength and thus reducing or keeping the pain under control. With active exercises and a good diet plan devised specially for muscular atrophy patients, one can definitely delay the rapid advancement of this disorder.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: April 4, 2015

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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