Muscle Atrophy After Surgery
The Quick Read
- Whether you’re a serious weight lifter or a regular Joe, chances are your muscle mass and overall strength will decrease following a surgical procedure. This phenomenon is called muscle atrophy, the wasting and decrease in size of muscle tissue.
- Your body needs a lot of energy for a full recovery after surgery. Fortunately, your muscles provide a great deal of strength and energy during this process. Unfortunately, this may require your body to break down its own muscle tissues as a vital energy source.
- Preparing your body before going into surgery by increasing your strength, aerobic capacity, and overall cardiovascular health may allow you to reduce surgical complications.
The Deep Dive
Being stuck in bed all day is never fun. What’s worse, prolonged periods of rest may lead to notable declines in overall muscle mass. Atrophy occurs when muscles are deprived of some or all of their normal activity, often following an injury or surgery that requires immobilization of the body. Further loss of muscle mass may be a result of the anabolic resistance created during the rest period of recovery, whereby muscle protein is lost and atrophy occurs. The negative implications of a single week of bed rest on skeletal muscle mass and whole-body insulin sensitivity can’t be ignored. This is especially true for surgery patients, who may spend anywhere between a few weeks to several months recovering from an operation.
In addition to decreasing overall mobilization, surgery and its related stressors on the body have been shown to induce a significant amount of internal inflammation. Research suggests that this local inflammation and oxidative stress may be detrimental to muscle growth. This is because oxidative stress and the body’s pro-inflammatory response following trauma, including surgery, have been linked to an overall decline in protein synthesis. This may hinder muscle maintenance and growth, resulting in increased muscle fatigue, especially in older patients.
While recovery from an operation will undoubtedly present some challenges, equipping your body with anti-inflammatory, health-promoting nutrients may ease the process. Anti-inflammatory compounds have been shown to decrease local inflammation and improve muscle mass maintenance under conditions of atrophy. Consuming protein and anti-inflammatory nutrients after surgery may address the inflammatory response, improving the recovery outcomes of muscle performance and limiting muscle deterioration. While there is still debate about whether atrophy is exacerbated by a “decrease in protein synthesis or, on the contrary, an increase in protein degradation” it appears that both are negatively impacted by periods of disuse and contribute to muscle atrophy after surgery.
By saturating your body with high-quality protein and other healthy ingredients, you provide yourself with an additional line of defense to fight muscle wasting and atrophy while allowing your body time to fully recover. Supplementing your recovery with healthful nutrients and optimal ingredients is one great way to put your best foot forward heading into surgery and the recovery that follows.
Patience and self-care should be prioritized while allowing your body the full amount of time it needs to heal from surgery. While some atrophy during prolonged periods of bed rest is to be expected, certain evidence suggests that a proper exercise regime prior to your operation may counteract some of these effects. Talk to your doctor to find out if they have a “prehabilitation” protocol. Many of these programs are covered by insurance or offered at reduced rates to patients. You wouldn’t expect an athlete to go into a marathon without having run a single time before the race, right? Much like running 26.2 miles or participating in any other intense physical competition, it is important that surgical patients prepare their bodies to endure the stress of the operation.
While it is important to consult your physician regarding when to start exercising (either before or after surgery) and how much movement is appropriate, improving overall strength levels can be beneficial to surgical patients. So, it may be worth your while to explore an exercise therapy program before going in for your procedure to counteract some of the natural loss of muscle mass that may follow. Talk to your doc today about when and how you should start prepping your body for surgery to go in stronger and come out feeling better.