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Muscle Atrophy: Causes and Treatment

Exercise Science
I had my first encounter with severe ageing-related muscle atrophy when I was very young.

As a kid, I was quite attached to my grandmother. She had the deepest blue eyes I’d ever seen, whiter than white hair and a big toothless smile. She wasn’t in the best of health but still tried to stay active around the house. She loved bragging about how she single-handedly used to cook meals for 50 guests at a time. I always found that hard to believe because the woman in front of me was barely capable of lifting herself off the bed. How could someone like her, with arms so thin that barely had any flesh on them, have managed to knead all that dough, chop all those vegetables and pound all those spices with a big heavy-duty stone pestle and mortar? It was only when I saw a very old photograph of hers that I realized what had happened. She wasn’t always an old woman; she once was a vibrant and healthy young woman. But through years of neglect and lack of activity, her body had wasted away until she was reduced to a mere shadow of her former self. What causes Muscle Atrophy? In a nutshell, muscle atrophy means the wasting away of one’s muscle mass. Common symptoms include: An arm or leg is noticeably smaller/thinner than the other one Greatly reduced strength in one of your limbs Weakness brought on by a long illness/disuse of your muscles There are a number of other reasons why this could happen but broadly speaking, these causes can be clubbed into two categories: Disuse Atrophy – Also known as “Use it or Lose it” Modern man has forgotten how to use his body. He makes it sit down in front of a computer all day, forces it to check the smartphone every 5 minutes and then hauls it back home every night only to lay it down in front of the TV. The result is a body with muscles that have rarely been used. Eventually, such a body is bound to break down. Ageing coupled with sedentary lifestyles can cause disuse atrophy over a period of time. People who have been injured or bedridden for a long time also run the risk of experiencing atrophy in the affected part. Neurogenic Atrophy This is a more severe form of atrophy as it is quite difficult to reverse the damage to the muscle tissue. Causes include nerve diseases, crippling diseases such as polio, stroke, malnutrition, spinal cord injuries, etc. Treatment for Muscle Atrophy While it is possible to reverse the damage caused to an atrophied muscle, the process can often be a long and arduous one. A Structured Exercise Program The best remedy is to start using the muscles that have thus far been inactive. It is imperative to regain strength in the weak muscle and a progressive exercise program that slowly activates and strengthens the muscle fibres is just what the doctor ordered. Precautions: Take it slow and steady Perform exercises only under the supervision of a qualified therapist/exercise specialist A Nutritious Diet Plan A balanced diet high in protein should accompany the exercise program. The muscles need to be fed so that they grow stronger and healthier. You could also consider supplementation as a part of the plan. Consult a nutrition expert who can guide you. Surgery Sometimes, the damage can be so severe as to warrant surgical intervention. While there also are some non-invasive techniques available, a surgeon alone is qualified to rule out or recommend surgery. Final Words: Prevention is better than cure has never been a more apt advice as in the case of muscle atrophy. Physical activity and proper nutrition are essential deterrents to this condition which not only impacts the life of the person affected but also those around them. Author credits – Jaideep Bhide
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