After I had my knee surgery I felt very weak, like if a strong wind came by it would knock me over and send me tumbling down the street.
The question is how did this happen? Did something go wrong with the surgery?
Fortunately, there were no issues with my surgery and I am no longer afraid of strong winds. Muscle loss and weakness are both very common following surgery. Many people notice their leg looks smaller after surgery. This loss of muscle mass and strength is called Muscle Atrophy.
What in the World is Muscle Atrophy?
Muscle atrophy is the loss of strength and muscle mass. Muscle atrophy happens for a number of reasons but the one that is most relevant following knee or hip surgery is called Disuse Muscle Atrophy (Powers, 2004). Disuse muscle atrophy occurs with bed rest, not moving a joint or leg, physical inactivity and space flight (Powers 2004). Although it is unlikely that anyone reading this will be heading to space anytime soon the other 3 causes will likely become a part of your life for a time following your surgery.
How Does it All Work?
To better understand muscle atrophy, we need to understand why it occurs! Your body responds to what it experiences. If you jump into a cold lake, your body quickly does a number of things to try and keep you warm, like shivering. Just as your body responds to the change in temperature from jumping in a lake, it also responds to physical activity; although not quite as quickly.
When you engage in any form of physical activity from walking, to exercising, to walking up a flight of stairs, it activates your muscles and tells your body that you need those muscles to function. The more active you are, the bigger that signal to your body is, and your body responds by building more muscle over time. This is why athletes tend to have larger muscle than the rest of us. Their bodies have responded to the increased activity they have engaged in over time.
Unfortunately, when you don’t engage in physical activity, your body also responds to the lack of muscle activation. When you are not using the muscle your body has, it goes “great I don’t need to put the energy and resources into maintaining these muscles if you're not going to use them” and will break down your muscles over time resulting in disuse muscle atrophy.
When you are resting and completely or partially immobilizing your leg following surgery, the activity signal on your body is significantly decreased and atrophy starts to occur. This is one of the reasons that starting your rehabilitation as soon as possible is so important it will help combat atrophy and build more muscle. Which in turn helps protect and support your freshly repaired joint.
We hope this article has helped you to better understand your recovery.
Curovate offers a rehabilitation program that you can follow at home to help you avoid atrophy after your surgery. All of Curovate’s rehabilitation programs were developed by a licensed physical therapist, Dr. Nirtal Shah. You can easily access all of Curovate’s programs on your phone through the Curovate app!
We also invite you to join our growing Facebook communities! They are a great place to get support from others going through a similar experience. Please join your injury group by clicking one of the links below.