Muscle atrophy begins by becoming unsightly, but it can become more serious over time. It is important to address this condition as it begins to take hold to avoid more serious conditions such as heart failure which can result from muscle atrophy.
What is Muscle Atrophy?
Muscle atrophy is the loss or wasting of muscle tissue throughout the body. There are two basic ways in which this disease can form. The most severe form of this disease is neurogenic atrophy, a disease caused when an injury or disease harms the nerve which attaches to the muscle. This damage can occur quite suddenly. The second type of this disease is disuse atrophy which is caused by a lack of physical activity. When your muscles are not used often or movement is limited, your muscles can be damaged. This is a significant concern for those who are bedridden.
Causes of Muscle Atrophy
Disuse muscle atrophy is rather self-explanatory. Any sedentary lifestyle that results in very little exercise can promote muscle atrophy. The less muscles that are used, the more serious the concern for developing this disease is. This can also cause heart trouble because the heart is also a muscle which can begin to break down if it is not properly exercised with therapeutic exercise on a regular basis.
Neurogenic muscle atrophy is caused by the nerves attached to the muscle becomes damaged from something such as a stroke, Lou Gehrig's disease or multiple sclerosis. When nerve damage to a muscle is interrupted so it cannot get to the brain, peripheral nerves or the spinal cord you may not be able to use the muscle properly. If the nerve is compressed due to an injury this can also result in decreased blood flow to the nerve which can result in the muscle breaking down and becoming damaged.
Symptoms of Muscle Atrophy
Weak and flabby muscle - The first sign that you are suffering from muscle atrophy is that the muscles will become weak and flabby. You may notice that the muscles on your body are not sitting in the same position that they used to or that your skin is starting to stretch from the weight of the muscles hanging in a way that they did not previously. You may also notice that it is becoming difficult to perform exercise routines, basic lifting or other tasks that you were once able to perform. In more severe cases, this may mean that simple tasks such as sitting for a long period of time become more difficult, especially in the case of patients that are bedridden or have an otherwise extremely sedentary lifestyle.
Damaged muscle - In the case of neurogenic muscle atrophy, you may notice a stooped posture where the muscle has become damaged. This can be more difficult to notice initially, but the posture may become more pronounced over time as the condition becomes worse. If something feels abnormal, even if you are not aware of a major shift in your ability to stand upright or hold your body in its normal position, it may be worth having your condition looked at to ensure that nothing is wrong. This is especially relevant if you have recently suffered from an injury that could have had an impact on your nerves which connect to your muscles.
Pain and difficulty in moving - Patients may also notice that they have frequent back pain or difficulty walking if they begin to develop muscle atrophy. These can be a result of either type of the disease. Other symptoms such as ham string contractures, limited range of neck motion or rigid spine may begin to form as your condition becomes worse. An overall stiffness or difficult, heavy feeling when you attempt to move has also been described by patients. Some of these side effects may be visible as you move, while others are internal so they cannot be witnessed. It is important to make note of whether or not you look differently and how you feel to determine if you may be developing muscle atrophy.
Heart failure- In more extreme cases you may begin to develop heart failure from muscle atrophy. As muscles become weaker it can become difficult for your heart to pump as efficiently, and it will eventually fail from a lack of use. If your heart begins to race when you attempt to perform physical activity or if it feels as though your heartbeat is labored and these symptoms are combined with an overall sense of weakness then you should seek out treatment options for your condition right away.
Treatments of Muscle Atrophy
In most cases, exercise can help reverse the effects of muscle atrophy. In the case of severely bedridden patients, you may not be able to completely reverse the effects of muscle atrophy, but you can help cease the damage which has been done to the body. If your condition is serious it is important to work with a doctor or therapist to develop a program that will not put excessive amounts of strain on your heart and damaged muscles.
Patients suffering from muscle atrophy caused by nerve damage may require musculoskeletal manipulations in order to relieve the pressure on the nerve which is causing the damage. This will help return the connection to the muscle so that you can begin to work on the progress of working the muscle back to its original state. In the case that the nerve was damaged by an injury, work with your doctor to make sure that you are performing exercises that will not aggravate your condition.