What is Muscle Atrophy?

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Muscle Atrophy

Do you have problems with muscle weakness and don’t really know what is the cause or how to treat it? We may be dealing with a condition called muscle atrophy. Muscle atrophy is the loss or wasting away of tissue that results in a loss of muscle strength and can adversely affect a person’s day-to-day life.

Muscule atrophy is a disease which affects the skeletal muscle´s nerve cells and, in fact, in the most severe cases, it can lead to total or partial paralysis. The muscles wear out progressively and the sufferer, as time goes by, has increasing difficulty in performing any physical activity.

Muscle atrophy is the opposite of muscle hypertrophy, the latter refers to muscle hyper-development.

If this is your case or you know someone with muscle atrophy, you should know that there are different causes and that it can be treated in a simple way. This does not mean that in all cases it can be solved, but it can be greatly improved. We’ll tell you more!

Symptoms of Muscle Atrophy

The symptoms of muscle atrophy appear according to the evolution of the muscle atrophy itself. We mean if there are no previous symptoms. On the other hand, the symptoms of muscle atrophy do not always appear in the same order; even so, there are some symptoms of muscle atrophy that we can highlight as more frequent and constant:

  • Difficulty in performing basic, everyday movements.
  • Feeling of weakness in the extremities.
  • More frequent fatigue after low intensities of exercise or movement.
  • Reduction of muscle mass in legs and arms. 

Causes of Muscle Atrophy

The origin of muscle atrophy in the muscles can be due to several causes. Determining them is not always easy, so it is best to make an appointment with your doctor so that he or she can provide you with an accurate diagnosis.

Some of the most common muscle atrophy causes are:

  • Prolonged corticosteroid therapy.
  • Burns.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Muscular dystrophy.
  • Osteoartritis.

We would like however, to highlight two of them because of their importance: the physical inactivity and some brain diseases.

Physical inactivity

If you have to rest for a long time or if you do not use your muscles regularly, you can end up suffering from so-called physiological atrophy.

As a rule, it affects different groups of people:

  • Those who are bedridden (for example, due to illness or convalescence) or who have limited movement.
  • Those who are unable to move their limbs for various reasons such as brain disease, stroke, fracture.
  • People whose level of physical activity is practically nil and who work sitting down. This is becoming more and more common with office and working from home.
  • People who are in zero-gravity environments for long periods of time can later have difficulty moving. This is very common amongst astronauts or in space travel. 

This type of muscle atrophy can be reversed in many cases. The way to reverse this is by exercising (gradually increasing the intensity) and eating a proper diet.

Brain diseases

This type of muscle atrophy is called neurogenic and is the most severe type. It may be caused by disease or injury to the nerves that connect to the atrophied muscles. Unlike physical atrophy, which is occurs to a lack of movement, it happens more suddenly.

In addition to diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome or polio, it can happen from spinal cord injuries. In addition, we would like to place special emphasis on two of these: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and peripheral nerve injuries.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a degenerative muscular atrophy disease of the neurons that control the movement of voluntary muscles.

Out of all ALS cases, 10% have a genetic origin, and for the rest the trigger is unknown. In either case, what happens is that the motor neurons die or wear out and therefore cannot send messages to the muscles. As a result, movements become weaker and abilities are gradually lost.

Over time ALS sufferers can experience spasms, muscle weakening and the inability to move legs, arms and the legs, arms, and the rest of the body. This condition worsens slowly and the biggest problem occurs when it affects the chest area. At this point, it is very difficult to move even the muscles in the thoracic area and this makes it very difficult or even impossible to breathe.

Nerve damage

​We have already told you that spinal cord injuries can cause muscle atrophy, but not only spinal cord injuries. Sometimes it is not the spinal cord that is injured or severed, but the peripheral nerves. This can happen after some types of tumors, or due to blows or cuts. Keep in mind that there are nerves that are located very close to the surface so it is not necessary that these cuts be extremely deep.

The peripheral nerves are responsible for communicating the brain with the rest of the body. They allow us to feel heat, cold, pain and, of course, they are also the ones that send orders from the brain to the muscles. If they get injured, crushed or cut, those orders will go nowhere.

Imagine tying a rope to a door so you can open it from the sofa. It’s all very comfortable until someone comes along and cuts it off. Then, no matter how hard you pull on it, the door won’t open. It’s the same with muscles. If the nerve has problems, no matter how hard you try to send a command to the muscle to contract, it won’t happen. As a result, when it stops receiving signals, the muscle will begin to contract on its own, causing spasms, and subsequently stop functioning.

Something different happens if that rope we were talking about is not cut, but simply damaged. We then face a nerve injury that allows the orders to reach the muscle, but the orders do not arrive correctly. The symptoms will be determined by the type of injury.

Muscle Atrophy

Physical activity, the best treatment for Muscle Atrophy

Different situations, such as recovering from an injury or suffering from an illness, can cause you to not use some muscles for a period of time and lose some muscle mass. In fact, you don’t have to go for a long period of time without using your muscles for a significant tissue loss to occur.

You may have to be immobilized for a few days, be on bed rest or have a cast. In all of these situations you can compromise your metabolic health. It is when the reduction in muscle mass occurs that it is attributed especially to a lower synthesis of muscle protein postprandial and post absorption.

One of the most effective solutions that can be taken in these situations to lose as little muscle mass as possible is to perform contractions by means of electrostimulation or (EMS).

EMS therapies have numerous advantages and are recommended by professional athletes, physiotherapists and doctors to prevent short-term muscle loss. Some of the benefits of this therapy are:

  • To assist in rehabilitation, promote reduced movement and prevent muscle atrophy.
  • Increase body strength and endurance.
  • Strengthen fibers and muscles to slow or reduce deterioration.

Electrostimulation for Muscle Atrophy

The most frequent and relevant use of electro-stimulation in rehabilitation tends to be for atrophied muscles that are paralyzed. Knowing how to optimize electrostimulation equipment for the maximum results allows you to prevent and treat muscle atrophy and other problems such as lumbago.

If you have an injury that prevents you from moving normally, the atrophied muscles that are involved with that injury fall into disuse. As we have already seen, the consequence of not using them is that they run the risk of atrophy.

To avoid this problem, good electrostimulation equipment can be adapted to personal needs and stimulate paralyzed or unused muscles. The electro-stimulation equipment therefore, when applied correctly in rehabilitation treatments facilitates the work of the muscles involuntarily, without the patient having to move them.

What benefits can be gained from this?

Among the most important advantages of electro-stimulation are the following:

  • Shorten recovery time: Using electrostimulation in rehabilitation sessions improves the well-being of patients. Preventing the onset of muscle atrophy is better than having to treat it afterwards.
  • Prevents severe damage: If you already have a complicated injury, with EMS you avoid adding a bigger problem, such as atrophy. Likewise, it also helps us to avoid the chaining of additional problems in other areas of the musculature.
  • Avoid bad posture: Patients who are bedridden or have poor mobility often adopt bad habits and postures to avoid further pain in the injured area. With EMS we will be improving your quality of life and we will be able to prevent chained injuries. 

In short, thanks to electrostimulation, you can avoid and prevent problems derived from muscle atrophy. If you want to be informed about related topics, subscribe to our blog.

Muscle Atrophy