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Atrophy and Damaged Nerves

saltzworksssaltzworks Posts: 1,031
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:27 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Okay, so I had NO IDEA until just a bit ago that if you have nerve damage, your muscles will atrophy.

Half of my right leg went numb due to complications in my July surgery. I have been doing very (if not extremely) well, I think, just aches pains, sleeping isn't so easy and some other minor things.

But I noticed a few months ago that my thigh muscle would cramp whenever I kneeled down. Then I also noticed that my pinky toe on the right would severely cramp out whenever I rubbed the bottom of my foot or stretched my foot. Mind you - I can't feel most of this, I can see my toe but my thigh is just a feeling in the half that has feeling.

I thought it felt like the muscles were atrophy-ing (sp? LOL) but I convinced myself that since I could still move the muscles it could not be that.

Well, apparently it CAN and WILL and DOES.

I've been working now with a therapist. I don't really know if there is anything that can be done, if things will just keep getting worse or if I can hold it all at bay with PT. Time will tell I guess.

I do still have hope that the damage is reversible. I could still get the feeling back - it's only been just over 6 months after all.


  • My docs told me that generally you will reach peek amount of atrophy around the 6 month mark. Many muscles will atrophy partially and some will atrophy completely. The key is regaining or building strength in what remains. If the nerve damage was temporary or heals itself, supposedly the muscles can be built back up to a point. If the nerve remains damaged, then unless a nerve graft is done ... forget it.

    I have studied this a lot and talked endlessly with many docs, because I have atrophy issues in my neck and shoulders. For me, I just have to keep the surrounding good muscles functioning and they compensate for the ones that are no longer around.

    Working with a therapist is a great idea, since a PT can help you target the muscles easier and keep you from just compensating.

  • Oh, Amy, I am so sorry to hear the you still have to deal with these issues. You have been doing so well, and above all, you are such a positive person, that I hope eventually everything will get better. When you mean, atrophy, do you mean that the muscles actually shrink or that they just go to mush? You see, iI have noticed all of a sudden, that where I used to have calf muscles, therey is this soft, shapeless thing. I thought it was from not doing my exercise class since my surgery, so I quickly returned in the beginning of this month. Now you got me worried. I also don't understand, that with all the walking we do, why we don't have leg muscles like steel? I don't know what is the answer, other than keep exercising these muscles even more.

    Good luck,

  • I am so sorry you are having problems! What does your surgeon say about your muscle/nerve damage?

    Keep thinking those positive thoughts!
  • I am sorry to hear this.

    Does atrophy mean the muscles are wasting? shrinking?

    Ihope you get better soon!
  • First a definition:

    Muscle atrophy is defined as a decrease in the mass of the muscle; it can be a partial or complete wasting away of muscle.

    (so yes, Kin - I think you might be getting some atrophy there in that calf, it's worth talking to the doc anyway)

    My Dr. was concerned and so that's why I am doing PT now. To work on those muscles. I don't know if I can fix what's done already, but I am not one to give up hope. AND - any exercise has to help I would think.

    My PT says that no matter what, if your muscles do not get nerve messages any longer, your muscles will atrophy.

    p.s. Interesting note on the 6 month/peek information C - I guess I'm right on target.
  • Amy,

    Well, do you believe it, that today when I was being "iced" at PT, I got bored and started flexing and extending my calf muscles, lo and behold, I noticed just a little hardness there. So back to my exercises for a month already helped. I guess may be that is the answer. I still don't se how with all the walking could these muscles atrophy.

  • Great news Kin!!

    I'm still holding - no better, no worse. But it's only been just over a month.

    I sometimes wonder if it's the half/half issue: half my leg is okay (the inside) and half is numb (the outside) I wonder it the muscles just hate being divided like that - and so they do what they have to - cramp.
  • So if nerves cease tpo pass the messages, the muscle will atropy?
    How do you know if the messages are getting through?
    My leg is numb...are my messages getting through or are they just not being "read"?

    Can you re-build it or delay it with PT?
  • Itsalongwalk -

    I'm not expert and I still have not been able to really discuss anything the dr. yet.

    I would assume that numbness = the messages are NOT getting through.

    I also assume that therapy must do SOMETHING - I'm sure if I go searching I could find physical therapy information that talks up the benefits of PT.
  • We have several different nervous systems and the system for what we "feel", is different from the system that controls the muscles. So a person with a problem to the system that controls "feel", does not necessarily have a problem that will relate to muscle atrophy caused by denervation.

    It's like having two different utility systems, one is electricity and one is water. You can lose water and still have electricity. It takes different trauma to effect one or both systems.

  • Here is a more exact definition:

    There are three types of peripheral nerves: motor, sensory and autonomic. Some neuropathies affect all three types of nerves, while others involve only one or two.

    3 Types of Peripheral Nerves:

    * Motor
    * Sensory
    * Autonomic

    Motor nerves send impulses from the brain and spinal cord to all of the muscles in the body. This permits people to do activities like walking, catching a baseball, or moving the fingers to pick something up. Motor nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness, difficulty walking or moving the arms, cramps and spasms.

    Sensory nerves send messages in the other direction—from the muscles back to the spinal cord and the brain. Special sensors in the skin and deep inside the body help people identify if an object is sharp, rough, or smooth; if it's hot or cold; or if it's standing still or in motion. Sensory nerve damage often results in tingling, numbness, pain, and extreme sensitivity to touch.

    Autonomic nerves control involuntary or semi-voluntary functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and sweating. When the autonomic nerves are damaged, a person's heart may beat faster or slower. They may get dizzy when standing up; sweat excessively; or have difficulty sweating at all. In addition, autonomic nerve damage may result in difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, problems with urination, abnormal pupil size, and sexual dysfunction.
  • Hi everyone,
    I am new to the forum, not new to spinal problems. My muscles have atrophied in my legs over the last 10 yrs. They are half the size they use to be. I have Arachnoiditis and the doctors say the atrophy is caused by permanent nerve damage. I have pain in them constantly, this being even more debilitating than the back pain.
    I run an email list-serve for people with spinal fusions and this atrophy seems to be a common problem. Exersise doesn't seem to help, in my case, but I keep trying. My doctors have always sugg. swimming for a work out,done without putting excessive stress on my spine.
    Thanks for all the interesting reading, I can see I'll be here awhile :)
  • I have to admit that I am worried about the atrophy being irreversible.

    I am even more concerned that exercise won't make it better. I do really really hope that the exercise will at least keep it from getting worse.

    Wait and see, wait and see...
  • Heya,

    I am not sure about the muscle part but it's definately got me worried......!

    Just reading all of the comments and thought I may add mine.. I have a damaged nerve from my L5/S1 disc that prolapsed in August 2005 which inevitably caused my right leg to loose ALL feeling. There was no other option but to operate and they removed 2/3rds of the disc which relieved the nerve and after 10 days i had most feeling back except for the outside of my calf, outer ankle, top of my foot and my big toe. This stands today over 3 years on.

    In the last 6 months I have nearly fallen down stairs three times as whilst i am in natural automatic movement, all of a sudden (SPLIT SECOND), my brain forgets what my right leg is doing. This freaks me out immensely and is VERY worrying!
    Sometimes it feels like my big toe is mis-jointed and that someone needs to pull it for me back into place.

    My ankle is a problem too. Sometimes I feel like I could do some serious damage especially when i jog (which is not often as I have scar tissue sitting under the nerve and whenever i do any sort of activity the muscle tenses and the nerve swells/inflames which causes HORRIFIC pain.

    No operations can help me and the Australian government has decided that the allowance given for the spinal cord stimulator is to be cut and only persons to qualify are pretty much twice my age. I am 29.

    PLEASE ... I am interested to hear if anyone else has experienced problems similar to mine.

    Cheers and good luck x
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