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Muscle atrophy is when muscles waste away. The main reason for muscle wasting is a lack of physical activity. This can happen when a disease or injury makes it difficult or impossible for you to move an arm or leg. A symptom of atrophied muscles is an arm that appears smaller, but not shorter, than the other arm.
You should schedule an appointment with your doctor if you think you are experiencing muscle atrophy. Your doctor will determine what treatment you need. In some cases, muscle wasting can be reversed with a proper diet, exercise, or physical therapy.
You may have muscle atrophy if:
Contact your doctor to have a complete medical examination if you believe you may have muscle atrophy or if you are unable to move normally. You may have an undiagnosed condition that requires treatment. Your doctor will be able to provide you with diet and exercise options.
Unused muscles can waste away if you are not active. Even after it begins, this type of atrophy can often be reversed with exercise and improved nutrition.
Muscle atrophy can also happen if you are bedridden or unable to move certain body parts due to a medical condition. Astronauts, for example, can also experience some muscle atrophy after a few days of weightlessness.
Other causes for muscle atrophy include:
Diseases can cause muscles to waste away or can make movement difficult, leading to muscle atrophy. These include:
Your doctor will ask about your complete medical history. Tell them about old or recent injuries and previously diagnosed medical conditions. List prescriptions, over-the counter medications, and supplements you’re taking. And give a detailed description of your symptoms.
Your doctor may also order tests to help with the diagnosis and to rule out certain diseases. These tests may include:
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist depending on the results of these tests.
Treatment will depend on the diagnosis and the severity of your muscle loss. Any underlying medical conditions must be addressed. Common treatments for muscle atrophy include:
Recommended exercises might include water exercises to help make movement easier. Physical therapists can also teach you the correct ways to exercise. A physical therapist can move your arms and legs for you if you have trouble moving.
Ultrasound therapy is a noninvasive procedure that uses sound waves to aid in healing. Also, surgery may be necessary if your tendons, ligaments, skin, or muscles are too tight and prevent you from moving. This condition is called contracture deformity.
Surgery may be able to correct contracture deformity if your muscle atrophy is due to malnutrition. And a torn tendon may cause muscle atrophy, but surgery may also be able to correct it.
Your doctor will advise you about proper nutrition and suggest proper dietary supplements if necessary.
Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Jul 05, 2016: William Morrison, MD
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