Disuse Syndrome

Humans are designed to be active creatures, and physical activity is at the root of leading a healthy lifestyle. So many different diseases can be attributed to a lack of movement and exercise. When a person is sedentary, they are more likely to become ill or cause distress to their body. Immobility and lack of activity can even prolong the healing process in persons that are sick or who are recovering from an illness or injury. When the muscles in the body go too long without movement, a person is likely to suffer from disuse syndrome.


What is Disuse Syndrome?

Disuse syndrome occurs in the body when it has experienced an extended period of inactivity. When a person is not engaged in any form of physical activity, the muscles and joints begin to grow weak and lose their ability to operate to their full potential. Some sort of physical activity should be performed every day to prevent the onset of disuse syndrome.


How is Disuse Syndrome Acquired?

Disuse syndrome can be attributed to many different kinds of behaviors and underlying medical issues. Some of the most common reasons associated with disuse syndrome are:


  • Sedentary Lifestyle

Living a sedentary lifestyle is often a product of technology and the modern world we currently live in. For most people spending hours sitting at a desk or in front of a screen is a massive part of their day. People have more than ever at their fingertips. It’s easy to become complacent when you can get whatever you want delivered to your doorstop with the click of a button. Going outside and moving around may seem like more of a chore than a reward, which then leads to unhealthy habits such as poor diet and lack of exercise. With the current onset of the COVID-19 epidemic, people are forced to rethink the way they live and interact with the world. Because of stay at home orders, society has been encouraged to limit the time they spend outside of their homes to minimize exposure and maintain the safety of themselves and others. For many, this means having to make do with what is available to them. They may find there is a lack of selection when it comes to getting groceries, and they also may no longer have access to a gym or fitness center, causing them to ignore exercise altogether.


  • Sedentary Jobs

 Those who work a desk job know how draining it can be. It may seem like there is too much to do at work, and stepping away from the computer is just not an option. Spending eight hours a day parked at a desk can have adverse effects on the mind as well as the body. Little to no activity for long periods while sitting causes the joints to become stiff and rigid. Over time this can cause problems like lower back pain, neck pain, and knee pain. It may also leave those who work in an office drained, leaving no energy to exercise after work or during their downtime on the weekends.


  • Joint Disease and Neuropathic Pain

When a person is diagnosed with a chronic illness like joint disease, it means that their musculoskeletal system has been compromised. Doing physical activity of any kind can become extremely challenging. Joint disease can have severe effects on the back and the knees, which are the body’s weight-bearing joints. It can be painful for people who suffer from chronic back pain, arthritis, or nerve pain to do the simplest tasks led alone to exercise regularly.


  • Bed Rest Because of Injury or Illness

When a person suffers from an illness or injury that restricts them from moving, they will experience the effects of disuse syndrome. In the case of having been in a cast or prolonged bed rest, the muscles will begin to experience disuse atrophy.  When the muscles are not used for extended periods and then suddenly used again, it can lead to other injuries in the future.


What Are the Negative Effects of Disuse Syndrome?

Whether the cause of physical inactivity is laziness, work, or illness, the effects of disuse syndrome will have negative implications on the body. Poor habits can lead to problems with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  Weight gain puts a tremendous amount of strain on the body. Particularly in the knees, neck, back.  High blood pressure, heart disease, and decreased blood supply deprive the body of important blood oxygen nutrients. Lack of movement also affects the brain and the way the nervous system functions. This can lead to problems with concentration, memory loss, and increased pain sensitivity, especially in those who have arthritis.


How Do You Avoid Disuse Syndrome?

When trying to avoid the effects of disuse syndrome, it is essential to lead a healthy lifestyle. Getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight are the keys to success. For many, it may be hard to know where to start. There are ways to be physically active at any stage in life. It is important to find an enjoyable activity that will be easy to stick for the long haul. For beginners or people who are recovering from an illness or injury, start small with things like:


  • Going for a walk or bike ride with friends and family
  • Going for a short walk during a lunch break
  • Taking the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator
  • Doing simple exercises during commercial breaks while watching tv
  • Walking to do errands that are close-by instead of driving
  • Exercise with a group instead of alone to stay motivated
  • Clear out a designated fitness space at home if stuck inside


If healing from a surgery or an injury, a physical therapist can give instructions on proper form and execution.

It’s never too late to start being active. When it comes to joint health, a little bit of activity goes a long way. Over time with the strengthening of muscles and joints and proper pain management techniques, people who suffer from chronic pain due to disuse syndrome will begin to build stronger bodies and achieve a healthier perspective on life overall.