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Muscle Atrophy

What is muscle atrophy?

Muscle atrophy is the wasting away of muscle mass resulting in a significant decrease in strength to the patient. There are 3 different types of muscle atrophy (disuse atrophy, neurogenic atrophy & overtraining muscle atrophy) that may stem from several reasons. It is often an athlete or a weight lifters worst nightmare, not to mention a severe inconvenience to everyone who suffers from the condition.

Disuse atrophy

Disuse atrophy is the muscle atrophy that results as a lack of physical exercise. The general rule of thumb (although there are exceptions) is that if you don’t exercise your muscles (even a little bit) then the muscle mass will decrease. This can often be the case for office workers who sit at a computer screen all day long and then go home and sit in front of the television all night long (or continue to work all night long).

Those who suffer from disuse atrophy as a result of work can quite easily solve the issue. If they have enough time at night they can go to the gym and start a strength weight training regime to combat the muscle atrophy. If they don’t have enough time to do that, they can also implement cubical jockey exercises. These are exercises that can be done around the office and include replacing the chairs with exercise balls to strengthen the core, or have light weights at the desk which workers can use whenever they get a few spare minutes.

Some other sufferers of this type of muscle atrophy however are down to an accident or medical condition that limits their mobility. An example of this would be patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. As their mobility is limited, muscle atrophy occurs as a result of disusing the muscles. However, there are specialist strength training programmes to combat this such as The Arthritis Foundation’s weight lifting programme, specific for rheumatoid arthritis.

Finally people may suffer from disuse atrophy as a result of their age. After the age of 40, people tend to lose their strength and suffer from increased muscle atrophy the older they get. This again can be minimised with the correct strength training such as using light weights for bench press and shoulder press motions.

Neurogenic atrophy

Neurogenic Atrophy is a muscle atrophy that stems from an injury or disease to the nerves that prevents and hinders muscle mobility. Neurogenic atrophy tends to be sudden and non-reversible as a result of chronic diseases such as polio and sclerosis.

Overtraining muscle atrophy Muscle atrophy as a result of overtraining is a common occurrence amongst novice bodybuilders and weight trainers. The principles of weight training (at a very simplified level) indicate that after a muscle group is exercised then it requires roughly 72 hours rest to recover, repair and grow. Often novice weight trainers will want to see as much progress to their vanity muscles (chest and arms) as possible and focus on training these parts of their body and neglecting other areas. This improper weight split and lack of rest can lead to overtraining which results in muscle atrophy and decreased strength (the opposite effect they are trying to achieve).


Correct exercise regimes aren’t the only thing that can help prevent muscle atrophy. By having the correct diet you are providing the body with the nutrients it requires to maintain healthy muscles. The most important food group that should be incorporated into your diet should be foods high in protein. Examples of these types of food include fish, chicken, beef, egg whites, lentils, nuts, milk and cheese.

However, just protein isn’t enough and you need a balanced diet to combat muscle atrophy. By consuming fruits and vegetables you provide the muscles with the magnesium required to function properly (not to mention they are healthy for the rest of your body). In addition to this it is important to incorporate carbohydrates into your diet to prevent your body using the protein as a source of energy.

Personal experience

If you have any personal experience with either disuse or neurogenic atrophy then please let us know on Facebook. It would be good to hear all the different strength regimes and diet plans used to combat muscle atrophy so we can spread the knowledge between other sufferers. It would also be good to gather different sufferers from neurogenic atrophy to help others know they are not alone. If we have enough participation on the topic then we can set up a discussion board over on Facebook to get a proper conversation going.

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