Exercises for Muscle Atrophy

For many years exercise therapy has been effectively used as an intervention for patients with muscle atrophy .Recovering muscle after atrophy is possible and requires the guidance of a physical therapist. It is important to consider the underlying reason for the atrophy. There are no standard exercises that have been developed for muscle atrophy and prescribed exercises are normally customized to the patient.

Before starting an exercise regime, it is important to carry out a thorough assessment of the patient’s capabilities, perform certain investigations in order to determine the kind of therapy required. These may include:

  • Measures of motor function
  • Head to toe physical exam
  • Exercise capacity tests which may involve riding a stationary bicycle or walking in the fastest way possible within a specified period of time.


The aim of physical activity in muscle atrophy is both preventive and curative. Disuse atrophy which occurs in persons with sedentary lifestyles may affect those sitting in offices for long periods of time. With this in mind, Many exercises have been developed that can be performed in a sitting position. Systems have been developed such as the use of fitness balls to replace office chairs in the office setting. It is believed that Fitness balls automatically tone the muscles in the back, hips, shoulders and abdomen. A study conducted in 2012 in the USA (2) revealed that office workers who used fitness balls instead of office chairs had improved muscle activity in the leg muscles.

The following are examples of simple exercise that are encouraged for people who have to sit for long hours:

  • Knee extensions that target the thigh muscles and the calf muscles. They involve repeatedly extending legs slowly in a sitting position.
  • Contractions of the quadriceps: This is another exercise targeting the front thigh muscles. This is performed by sitting with legs extended and the knees straightened while heels touching the floor. The quadriceps are then tightened and held for about ten seconds.
  • Shin strengtheners are also performed while sitting. These are done by flexing ones toes while pointed upwards. This movement is repeated about 10 times. Some weight may be placed on top of the feet as it is done.
  • Another exercise, the inner thigh squeeze, which is performed by placing a small ball between one’s knees and pressing them together for a few seconds. Resistance is felt in the inner thighs.

For elderly persons, certain simple exercises such as the ones below are often prescribed:

  • Squeezing of a tennis balls with one’s hand may help to increase and strengthen  grip
  • Use of small dumbbells to perform chest presses
  • Walking: A simple walking program may reverse the effects of atrophy in elderly patients. It is recommended that one takes 30 minutes walk three times a week.
  • Aquatic therapy has been used for a number of years now. The use of water reduces the effects of gravity and makes exercises easier.

Patients with SMA may benefit from assistive devices that may help them perform functional tasks. Exercises that cause excessive fatigue should be avoided, particularly in patients whose respiratory function is compromised. Close monitoring and use of oximetry is necessary.

In order to maximize the effects of exercises and regain muscle, a multi disciplinary approach is necessary. Nutritional needs of a patient are important and should be met. An increase protein intake aids the rebuilding of muscle

Find More about treatment for Muscle atrophy here



1. Yasser Salem (2012). Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Neuromuscular Disorders, Dr. Ashraf Zaher (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-51-0696-8, InTech, DOI: 10.5772/47952. Available from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/neuromuscular-disorders/spinal-muscular-atrophy

2. Indiana University: Using a Stability Balls as an Office Chair Can Help More Than Just Your Abs

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity – Stage 3



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