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Muscle Atrophy
Muscle atrophy is defined as a decrease in the mass of
the muscle; it can be a partial or complete wasting away
of muscle, and is most commonly experienced when
persons suffer temporary disabling circumstances such
as being restricted in movement and/or confined to bed
as when hospitalized. When a muscle atrophies, this
leads to muscle weakness, since the ability to exert
force is related to mass. Modern medicine's
understanding of the quick onset of muscle atrophy is a
major factor behind the practice of getting hospitalized
patients out of bed and moving about as active as
possible as soon as is feasible, despite sutures, wounds,
broken bones and pain.
Muscle atrophy results from a co-morbidity of several
common diseases, including cancer, AIDS, congestive
heart failure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease), renal failure, and severe burns; patients who
have "cachexia" in these disease settings have a poor
prognosis. Moreover, starvation eventually leads to
muscle atrophy.
Disuse of the muscles, such as when muscle tissue is
immobilized for even a few days of unuse – when the
patient has a primary injury such as an immobilized
broken bone (set in a cast or immobilized in traction),
for example – will also lead rapidly to disuse atrophy.
Minimizing such occurrences as soon as possible is a
primary mission of occupational and physical therapists
employed within hospitals working in co-ordination
with orthopedic surgeons.
Neurogenic atrophy, which has a similar effect, is
muscle atrophy resulting from damage to the nerve
which stimulates the muscle, causing a shriveling
around otherwise healthy limbs. Also, time in a circa
zero g environment without exercise will lead to
atrophy. This is partially due to the smaller amount of
exertion needed to move about, and the fact that
muscles are not used to maintain posture. In a similar
effect, patients with a broken leg joint undergoing as
little as three weeks of traction can lose enough back
and buttocks muscle mass and strength as to have
difficulty sitting without assistance, and experience
pain, stress and burning even after a very short tenminute exposure, when such positioning is contrived
during recovery.
There are many diseases and conditions which cause a
decrease in muscle mass, known as atrophy, including:
inactivity, as seen when a cast is put on a limb, or upon
extended bedrest (which can occur during a prolonged
illness); cachexia - which is a syndrome that is a comorbidity of cancer and congestive heart failure;
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; burns, liver
failure, etc., and the wasting Dejerine Sottas syndrome
(HSMN Type III). Other syndromes or conditions
which can induce skeletal muscle atrophy are liver
disease, and starvation.