What causes weakness in the arms and legs and what should I do?

Symptom Database

Weakness in the arms and legs can be a concerning symptom that may indicate an underlying health issue. It can affect individuals of all ages and can range from mild to severe. In this article, we will explore the causes of weakness in the arms and legs and discuss possible treatment options.

Causes of Weakness in the Arms and Legs

Muscle Weakness

Muscle weakness is a common cause of weakness in the arms and legs. It occurs when the muscles do not contract or function properly. This can be due to various factors, including:

  • Malnutrition: A lack of essential nutrients can lead to muscle weakness.
  • Dehydration: Insufficient fluid intake can cause muscle weakness.
  • Overexertion: Excessive physical activity without proper rest can result in muscle weakness.
  • Neuromuscular disorders: Conditions such as muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis can cause muscle weakness.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can also lead to weakness in the arms and legs. When the nerves that control muscle movement are damaged, the muscles may not receive the proper signals to function correctly. Some common causes of nerve damage include:

  • Injury: Trauma or accidents can result in nerve damage.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: This condition affects the peripheral nerves and can cause weakness in the limbs.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Conditions like Guillain-Barré syndrome can cause nerve damage and subsequent weakness.
  • Compression: Nerves can be compressed by conditions such as herniated discs or carpal tunnel syndrome, leading to weakness.

Medical Conditions

Various medical conditions can contribute to weakness in the arms and legs. These conditions may affect the muscles, nerves, or other systems in the body. Some examples include:

  • Stroke: A stroke can cause weakness on one side of the body, including the arms and legs.
  • Multiple sclerosis: This autoimmune disease affects the central nervous system and can result in muscle weakness.
  • Myasthenia gravis: This neuromuscular disorder causes muscle weakness and fatigue.
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica: This inflammatory disorder can cause muscle pain and weakness.

Treatment for Weakness in the Arms and Legs

Addressing Underlying Causes

The first step in treating weakness in the arms and legs is to identify and address any underlying causes. This may involve:

  • Improving nutrition: Ensuring a balanced diet with adequate protein and nutrients can help improve muscle strength.
  • Hydration: Drinking enough water and fluids can prevent dehydration-related weakness.
  • Rest and recovery: Allowing the muscles to rest and recover after physical activity can prevent overexertion.
  • Physical therapy: In cases of nerve damage or muscle weakness, physical therapy exercises can help improve strength and mobility.


In some cases, medications may be prescribed to manage weakness in the arms and legs. These may include:

  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter or prescription pain medications can help manage discomfort associated with muscle weakness.
  • Immunosuppressants: For autoimmune disorders, medications that suppress the immune system may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and weakness.
  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressant medications can help manage pain and improve mood in individuals with chronic weakness.

Assistive Devices

For individuals with severe weakness in the arms and legs, assistive devices can provide support and improve mobility. These may include:

  • Canes or walkers: These devices can help individuals maintain balance and stability while walking.
  • Braces or splints: These can provide support to weak muscles or joints, improving function.
  • Wheelchairs or scooters: In cases of significant weakness, mobility aids like wheelchairs or scooters can enhance independence.

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan for weakness in the arms and legs. They can provide personalized recommendations based on the underlying cause and individual circumstances.

In conclusion, weakness in the arms and legs can have various causes, including muscle weakness, nerve damage, and underlying medical conditions. Treatment options may involve addressing underlying causes, medications, and the use of assistive devices. Seeking medical advice is crucial for proper diagnosis and management of this symptom. By addressing the underlying cause and following a comprehensive treatment plan, individuals can improve their strength and regain functionality in their arms and legs.

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