“I used to think muscle weakness only happened to old people! I’m in the prime of my youth but I’m experiencing muscle weakness in my hands and feet, and it feels like they haven’t gotten the message.”
This was Sarah’s lament. 27 years young with the muscles of a much older, feebler woman. If you are anything like Sarah, you’re no stranger to muscle weakness- maybe you struggle to open jars, lift everyday objects or maintain the old spring in your steps.
Muscle weakness is when our body’s efforts produce a lower level of muscular contraction than normal. There are myriad reasons behind this, from the fairly innocuous to potentially serious ones.
Causes of Muscle Weakness
As stated earlier, any number of factors acting alone or in combination can lead to muscle weakness.
They can affect the muscular system, the nervous system or the entire body. Here are some common ones
- Diabetes- Known as the silent killer, Diabetes leads to insulin deficiency or resistance leading to higher blood glucose but lower uptake and utilisation by tissues including muscles. It also leads to progressive multi-organ failure and muscle weakness is a very common symptom.
- Age- As age increases muscle mass and strength declines steadily.
- Cold/Flu– Common Cold and Flu can overwhelm the body’s histamine response cascade and the resulting febrile state is accompanied by muscle weakness.
- COVID-19- Along with the above-mentioned mechanisms, COVID also causes hypoxia and reduced Oxygen saturation. Under these conditions, muscle strength is severely diminished
- Injury- Inflammation and damage to muscle fibres post-injury translates to reduced power and range of motion. Without rest and rehab, it is difficult to regain muscle strength.
- Medication- Some groups of drugs, particularly steroids and statins can cause weak muscles all over the body
- Addison’s Disease- Muscle Weakness can also be a sign of Addison’s Disease where your body stops producing hormones known as corticosteroids.
- Anaemia- Suddenly feeling dizzy or feeling muscle weakness and fatigue may be indicative of anaemia
- Multiple Sclerosis(MS)- A dreaded disease where autoimmune cells attack nerve sheaths, MS can manifest as a sudden weakness in the legs and arms
- Botulism- It can be a life-threatening infection and weak muscles all over the body
This list is by no means exhaustive and several other reasons such as stroke. Chronic fatigue syndrome, neuromyopathies, sleep disorders, herniated discs etc can cause muscle weakness. Pregnancy can also lead to muscle weakness in the morning.
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How to Treat Muscle Weakness
Treatment for muscle weakness follows a two-pronged approach. Symptomatic treatment is done while attempting to diagnose and treat the underlying issue
- Physiotherapy– Exercise and physiotherapy are the mainstays of treating muscular weakness. This strengthens muscles and reduces the chances of atrophy while reducing and repairing any nerve damage.
- Occupational Therapy- This is especially helpful in rehab from stroke and helps you to learn ways to strengthen your body in different ways to live a normal and well-adjusted life.
- Medication- OTC and prescription medication help to relieve symptoms. These include painkillers, hormone replacements, iron supplements, drugs for autoimmune conditions etc. The specifics of the medication will vary according to the underlying cause.
- Lifestyle Changes- Changes to diet, sedentary lifestyle, high-pressure jobs etc may be necessary to help relieve muscle weakness.
- Surgery- In severe cases, surgery may be required for the correction of an injury
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Foods and Drinks to Treat Muscle Weakness
There are also gentler and more holistic ways to treat muscle weakness. Immunological studies have shown that chronic inflammation is the chief culprit behind muscle weakness and fatigue. So it makes sense to eat foods with strong anti-inflammatory properties. At the same time, proteins and healthy fats are also important. Magnesium is an important micronutrient for muscle health. These foods and drinks will help you out-
- Cold Water Fish- Fishes like salmon, tuna and mackerel are rich in magnesium, proteins and omega-3 fatty acids. They are excellent for overall health as well as muscle weakness and fatigue.
- Nuts- Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts are rich sources of proteins, fats, Magnesium and Vitamin E, making them an excellent choice to relieve muscle weakness
- Milk- Good old milk is chock full of calcium, and proteins and provides energy. Add a teaspoon of turmeric or Haldi to it for an anti-inflammatory boost!
- Apple Cider Vinegar- Apple Cider Vinegar has tons of anti-inflammatory properties. It is also imbued with potassium which can lead to muscle weakness if deficient. A swig early in the morning can do wonders for your health.
- Gooseberries- Indian gooseberries or amla is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and micronutrients. It also has analgesic properties and serves as a reliever for fatigue and muscle pain.
- Ginger- Gingerols in ginger have anti-inflammatory properties and help with swelling and soreness.
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Why Muscle Weakness is So Common in Youth
Remember Sarah? Let’s get back to her for a moment. Why is muscle weakness so common in the youth today? There are several reasons for this
- We live in highly stressful times. Millennials have been termed the ‘burnout generation’ and Gen Z seems to be following suit. High-stress careers coupled with an uncertain economy have ensured that chronic stress is a daily reality for young people
- Poor Lifestyle choices due to the abundance of processed foods and sedentary lifestyles have caused poor health in the youth
- Autoimmune diseases have gone through the roof in past years due to a multitude of reasons. They mainly affect people in the younger age bracket
- Environmental reasons like pollution, carcinogens and urbanisation have further deteriorated the quality of life in today’s generation relative to older people
Even though muscle weakness is common and in many cases debilitating, with proper knowledge of its underlying causes and prompt treatment and rehab you can achieve a normal, healthy and active lifestyle and bounce back stronger than ever before.