Leg Muscle Weakness in Seniors
Are you a senior who’s lost some mobility due to having leg muscle weakness in one or both legs? Maybe you’ve had a fall or two because you’ve been experiencing weak leg muscles?
Weak legs are a common problem in seniors because we lose muscle mass as we get older. As we age, we tend to become less active, and this causes a reduction in our muscle strength.
While some physical conditions can cause leg weakness, chances are, your weak leg muscles are part of the aging process. But don’t fret, there may be some things you can do to improve the strength in your legs and help you become more active.
Understanding muscle weakness symptoms
Let’s talk about the role that muscles play in your legs and throughout your body. Your body has around 600 or so muscles consisting of three types of muscles: skeletal, cardiac, and smooth. Muscles comprise 40% of your body weight.
Smooth muscles help aid in digestion, while cardiac muscles enable your heart to beat correctly. The muscles responsible for movement are skeletal muscles. When your body works right, you should be able to move your skeletal muscles at will, that is, whenever you want to.
While each muscle type has a specific purpose, the different muscle types work together to help your body function at its best. So, it’s possible that when there’s a problem with one type of muscle, it can affect other areas of your body.
Skeletal muscles give your body the power and strength it needs to move. When the skeletal muscles in your legs contract, they allow motion in your legs. The smaller muscles in your legs help you to rotate the joints in your legs and promote stability.
When your leg muscles don’t contract as they should, you may feel as though the muscles in your legs are weak. Some people say their legs feel like rubber or jelly when their leg strength is diminished. Weak leg muscles can make it difficult to walk or stand. Because you may not feel as stable, you may experience a fall.
One thing is sure. If your legs are weak, you may naturally feel vulnerable. Sometimes understanding the causes behind your leg weakness can help. Then, perhaps you can find ways to improve the weakness.
Chronic leg muscle weakness includes
As you get older and become less active, your body will undergo muscle loss. Studies show that adults age 50 and older lose 15% of their muscle strength each decade as they age. This can reduce your endurance to the point that you feel weaker in your legs.
When this happens, you may notice a reduction in your leg strength on a daily or chronic basis. Often, this is simply a part of the aging process. And, as you use your legs less, your leg muscles atrophy or shrink, making the weakness worse in the long run.
Some common health conditions contribute to this process of muscle loss.
A reduction in hormones
Declining hormones contribute to loss of muscle strength.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
PAD causes poor circulation in your legs, which can restrict blood flow. If you have PAD, you could experience leg weakness, numbness, tingling, pain, color changes, or cramps. Your legs and feet may also feel colder than the rest of your body. You’re at a higher risk of getting PAD if you smoke.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
DVT is a common problem in aging seniors. It signals a blood clot deep within the leg, usually in the lower leg. The blood pools near the clot and doesn’t return to the heart as it should. DVT can be serious if the blood clot breaks off and travels to the heart or lungs. If you develop DVT, you would likely develop swelling and a cramping pain in your leg. The color of the skin near the clot could turn pale, red, or blue. The skin on your leg may also be warm to the touch.
Diabetes is also common in seniors. While diabetes usually causes you to have high blood sugar, it can also diminish the circulation in your legs. This can cause you to have leg pain, cramping, or swelling. You might also develop neuropathy, which could make you lose feeling in your legs. The sugar swings could make you feel off-balance and dizzy. You may have an overall weak feeling that contributes you to moving less and less..
According to the American Heart Association, approximately 70% of seniors age 60 to 70 have cardiovascular disease. This causes narrowed or blocked arteries that can lead to a stroke or heart attack. A heart attack can cause chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, or numbness and weakness in your arms or legs. If you have a stroke, you could have sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, particularly in the face, arm, or leg. You might also have problems speaking or feel confused. Sudden problems walking or dizziness are also common with a stroke.
Chronic heart failure
Chronic heart failure often happens in seniors. When the muscle of your heart doesn’t pump as well as it should, heart failure can result. High blood pressure and narrow arteries in your heart could weaken your heart. If you have heart failure, you might feel short of breath, fatigue easily, or have weakness. Your legs and abdomen may swell, and you may have a chronic cough or wheezing. You may also notice your heart fluttering or beating fast.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Both conditions can cause problems with gait and walking, as well as affect your balance. These can make you feel weak in the legs and increase the risk of a fall.
These conditions become more common as you get older. Very often, this results in a more sedentary lifestyle, which further worsens weak leg muscles and can increase muscle loss. Experts say the key is to keep moving as much as physically possible.
Preventing muscle loss and improving leg muscle fatigue
No matter what the cause of your muscle loss and leg weakness, it’s possible to slow down or reduce the amount of muscle your legs lose as you get older. This is an important consideration because if you have weak legs, you are more likely to have falls and injuries.
You’re also less likely to remain active, which can make the problem worse and create a cause and effect scenario.
Follow your physician’s advice in treating any health condition you may have. Then ask them about their recommendations for you staying as active as possible. If your doctor gives the green light to try some steps at home to prevent further muscle loss and improve your leg weakness, consider the following:
Avoid sitting too much
Though a health setback might limit your mobility, simply walking more around the house with the aid of a helper, walker, or cane can improve the circulation in your body and legs. You may lose muscle mass at a slower rate and improve or prevent further weakness in your legs.
Look into strengthening exercises.
Ask your doctor about what types of activities you can do to strengthen your legs. Your doctor may refer you to physical therapy to slowly build your muscles back up. Once you feel as though your leg weakness is improved, it’s essential to continue to build your muscles back up and maintain your strengthening routine.
Elevate your legs when sitting or lying down.
Your blood circulation slows when you sit and lay down. This can put more pressure on your legs and prevent important nutrients and oxygen from circulating. Ask your doctor about whether elevating your legs can help relieve the pressure and improve any weakness in your legs. This might be particularly beneficial if you have diabetes, PAD, or cardiovascular disease.
Reducing or improving the factors that lead to chronic disease and a sedentary lifestyle can help you live your best life.
- If you smoke, try to stop smoking.
- Ask your doctor if reducing your salt intake can help you lower high blood pressure or minimize excess fluid in your body.
- Keep sugar levels at healthy levels to prevent the onset of diabetes or to prevent complications if you already have diabetes.
- Look for ways to boost circulation in your legs to help prevent or improve weak leg muscles. If you find it difficult to be active enough to promote circulation in your legs, ask your doctor if it’s okay to try a product that can stimulate your leg muscles for you.
While some degree of leg muscle loss is expected as you get older, there are ways to minimize it. It’s vital to do so because it could lead to more weakness in your legs. Weak legs can affect your entire well-being and your ability to remain mobile.
If you already suffer from weak leg muscles, ask your doctor about any pre-existing health condition that can be contributing to your leg weakness. Follow your doctor’s advice and ask him or her about self-help measures you can take to improve any weakness.
Remember that sudden leg weakness can be a warning sign, and you should seek an immediate evaluation if it happens.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended as medical advice. We believe in helping people to make informed decisions about their health. We hope to empower you to ask your physician the right questions so you can both agree on a treatment plan that’s right for you.
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