What causes decreased muscle mass and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Decreased muscle mass, also known as muscle loss or muscle atrophy, is a condition characterized by the reduction in the size and strength of muscles. It can occur due to various factors and can lead to muscle weakness, deterioration, and decline. Understanding the causes of decreased muscle mass and knowing how to treat it is essential for maintaining overall health and well-being.

Causes of Decreased Muscle Mass

There are several factors that can contribute to the loss of muscle mass:

Lack of Physical Activity

One of the primary causes of decreased muscle mass is a sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activity. When muscles are not regularly used or stimulated, they begin to weaken and shrink. This can happen due to prolonged bed rest, immobility, or a decrease in physical activity levels.


As we age, our bodies naturally undergo changes, including a decrease in muscle mass. This is known as sarcopenia and typically begins around the age of 30. The rate of muscle loss accelerates after the age of 60, leading to reduced muscle size and strength.


A lack of proper nutrition, particularly protein, can contribute to muscle wasting. Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. Inadequate protein intake can lead to muscle degeneration and weakness.

Chronic Illnesses

Chronic illnesses such as cancer, kidney disease, and heart failure can cause muscle wasting. These conditions often result in a loss of appetite, decreased physical activity, and changes in metabolism, all of which can contribute to decreased muscle mass.

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances, such as low testosterone levels in men or estrogen levels in women, can lead to muscle loss. Hormones play a crucial role in muscle development and maintenance. Any disruption in hormone levels can negatively impact muscle mass.

Treating Decreased Muscle Mass

While decreased muscle mass can be concerning, there are steps that can be taken to treat and prevent further muscle loss:

Regular Exercise

Engaging in regular exercise, particularly resistance training, is crucial for maintaining and building muscle mass. Resistance exercises, such as weightlifting or using resistance bands, help stimulate muscle growth and prevent muscle atrophy. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or a certified trainer to develop a safe and effective exercise routine.

Proper Nutrition

A well-balanced diet that includes an adequate amount of protein is essential for muscle health. Protein-rich foods such as lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, and legumes should be incorporated into meals. Additionally, consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides essential vitamins and minerals that support muscle function.


In some cases, supplementation may be necessary to support muscle growth and prevent further muscle loss. Protein supplements, such as whey protein, can be beneficial for individuals who struggle to meet their protein requirements through diet alone. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation regimen.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

If hormonal imbalances are contributing to muscle loss, hormone replacement therapy may be recommended. This involves replacing deficient hormones, such as testosterone or estrogen, to restore balance and promote muscle growth. Hormone replacement therapy should only be undertaken under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Physical Therapy

In cases where decreased muscle mass is a result of injury or immobility, physical therapy can be beneficial. Physical therapists can develop personalized exercise programs and techniques to help regain muscle strength and function.

Medication Management

In certain situations, medications may be prescribed to manage underlying conditions that contribute to muscle loss. For example, medications to control inflammation or pain can help improve muscle function and reduce further deterioration.


Decreased muscle mass can have a significant impact on overall health and quality of life. Understanding the causes and treatment options for muscle loss is essential for preventing further deterioration and maintaining muscle strength. Regular exercise, proper nutrition, and medical interventions when necessary can help combat decreased muscle mass and promote muscle growth and overall well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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