Healthy Aging: Causes of Muscle Weakness

Understanding Muscle Weakness

Muscle weakness may sneak up on you slowly over time.

Is it harder to get up from your chair, climb the stairs, or open a jar than it used to be? Lots of things can make your muscles lose strength and leave you feeling weak. Sometimes it happens all of a sudden. But muscle weakness is more likely to affect you little by little over time. So you may feel like it sneaked up on you. And keep in mind: Muscle weakness is different from fatigue or pain.

Getting Older

Some muscle weakness is normal as you age.

It’s normal to lose some muscle mass and get weaker with age. Doctors call this sarcopenia. You probably won’t notice it much before your 60s or 70s. Sarcopenia also can also come with other health conditions that make you inactive. If your doctor suspects sarcopenia, they may test for it by seeing how fast you can walk.

Cold or Flu

Some viral illnesses, including colds and flus, can lead to temporary muscle weakness.

If you have a bad cold, the flu, or some other bug, it can leave you feeling tired and weak. Flu symptoms can linger for up to a couple of weeks. But they should go away once you get better. Some viruses can infect the muscle itself to cause weakness. This isn’t likely to happen if you’re otherwise healthy.


COVID-19 has a lot of symptoms, including muscle weakness.

COVID-19 signs are often similar to those of the flu and include coughing, fever, and fatigue. But COVID also can cause symptoms in other parts of the body, including muscle weakness. If a bad case of COVID or any other illness keeps you in bed at home or in the hospital for days or weeks, your muscles also will lose strength fast. Physical therapy or exercises you do at home will help you get your strength back.

Muscle Injury

If your muscle weakness is due to an injury, rest, ice, compression and elevation should help.

Did you lift something that was too heavy for you? Or does your work involve a lot of repetition? If so, the cause of your muscle weakness could be a muscle strain or even a tear. If it isn’t too bad, following the R.I.C.E. approach at home can help your injury heal:

  • Rest

  • Ice

  • Compression

  • Elevation

See a doctor if your injury gets worse. Regular stretching and exercises can help to keep your muscles strong and prevent future injuries.

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Article submitted to MSRN by Pat France, MSRN Volunteer