Muscle atrophy is the loss of size or mass of muscle tissue and can afflict any muscle in the body. Atrophy of the muscle can occur for a number of reasons, including disuse from an injury such as if your arm is in a cast or you are bedridden. Simple lack of activity and the natural aging process can also cause muscles to atrophy. These reasons for atrophy can all be reversed through a sensible, progressive exercise program.
Begin with isometric exercises to improve circulation and increase strength in the atrophied muscle. Isometric exercises involve simply contracting the muscle for a few seconds at a time. For example, contracting your quadriceps with your leg straight would begin to improve quad strength just as contracting your biceps while your arm remains in a relaxed, bent position would begin to rebuild atrophied arm muscle. Gradually increase the contraction time and repetitions as your strength improves.
Progress to range of motion exercises that involve joint movement but do not use outside resistance. For atrophied quadriceps muscles, for example, sit in a chair and simply straighten your leg to engage the atrophied muscles. These types of exercises can be performed several times throughout the day to keep your blood flowing and muscles limber.
Use light resistance such as small hand weights or resistance tubing to begin rebuilding your lost muscle mass. Resistance needs to be added gradually, adding too much too quickly can result in injury. A leg extension with a resistance band is an example exercise for atrophied quadriceps muscles.
Add more resistance, moderately, in the form of heavier free weights or weight machines. Include more functional movements into your exercise program. Squats and step-ups will help to continue to build up atrophied quadriceps muscles while overhead presses will strengthen atrophied muscles in the upper body.
- Medline Plus: Muscle Atrophy
- National Strength and Conditioning Association Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle
- Physiology of Sport and Exercise, Third Edition; Jack H. Wilmore and David L. Costill