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What is Disuse Atrophy?

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Updated April 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: Disuse atrophy is another term for muscle atrophy, or muscle wasting. It occurs when a muscle is no longer as active as usual. When muscles are no longer in use, they slowly become weaker. Eventually, they begin to shrink. In some cases, disuse atrophy can be reversed if the muscles become active again.

Disuse atrophy can be caused by immobility, such as an arm being in a cast for a long period of time. It can also occur to some degree if a person stops performing their usual activities, such as walking.

Disuse atrophy can be a side effect of a neuropathic pain condition.

Also Known As: muscle atrophy, muscle wasting
Examples:
When a person becomes paraplegic, their legs often become smaller over time as they are no longer used to walk. This is called disuse atrophy.
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