Use it or lose it: disuse syndrome

April 7, 2020

A man lying on his couch, experiencing disuse syndrome

Disuse Syndrome

The phrase “use it or lose it” can apply to many things, including your body. When you don’t use your body, you may experience something called disuse syndrome. This condition describes the effects on the body and mind when a person is sedentary. Not using our bodies can lead to the deterioration of many body functions. 

The idea of disuse syndrome has been around since 1984, and since then, we have discovered how it relates to chronic pain, other illnesses, and overall health. 

What happens with disuse syndrome?

When you don’t use your body, there may be several physical consequences involving many body systems, such as your muscles and skeleton, cardiovascular system, blood components, the gastrointestinal system, the endocrine systems, and the nervous system. 

The less frequently the muscles in our bodies are used, the smaller and weaker they will become. This decrease in muscle mass and strength can lead to chronic pain in the body. 

Here are a few specific examples:

  • In the musculoskeletal system, the disuse of muscles can quickly lead to atrophy and muscle wasting. For those who have had an arm or leg in a cast, you may remember that the diameter of the affected limb was noticeably smaller after being immobilized for some time.
  • Physical inactivity leads to nervous system changes, including slower mental processing, problems with memory and concentration, depression, and anxiety. 
  • Physical inactivity can also affect the cardiovascular system. This may lead to a rise in blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and poor blood and oxygen supply to body tissue. When the blood and oxygen supply to the body is not sufficient, tissues don’t receive the nutrients they need. This can lead to muscle atrophy and chronic pain.
  • For chronic back pain, disuse syndrome is often a big issue. Muscles that are meant to hold the weight of the body become weak, which makes the weight of the body fall on the skeletal system, especially the spine. This can lead to degeneration and chronic back pain.

What to do about disuse syndrome

If you are suffering from disuse syndrome, what can you do about it? While we know it can be overwhelming if you have been inactive for a while, the answer is simply to get moving.

We know that physical activity leads to stronger muscles, weight loss, and improved quality of life. The chance to lose weight is especially important. Inactivity contributes to weight gain, which puts increased pressure on the musculoskeletal system. This added pressure can cause more rapid deterioration to joints in the body, leading to or worsening chronic pain. The back and knees, which are weight-bearing joints, are most affected by increased weight, and therefore, prone to chronic pain.

Regular exercise will help you combat chronic pain and maintain your health in many ways. If you think you are experiencing disuse syndrome due to pain, let us know! We can help you find safe ways to be more physically active, whether that’s through walking, biking, swimming, yoga, or other methods.

For more pain management options and treatments, contact Southside Pain Specialists.