Weakness is a loss of muscle strength. You may have weakness in a single muscle or in a group of muscles. Weakness can come and go or be constant. Weakness can get worse over time. You may have weakness for a short time, or it may be permanent.

What causes or increases my risk for weakness?

  • Older age
  • A problem in your brain, nerves, or muscles
  • A condition such as dehydration, a heart problem, infection, or pregnancy
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Steroid or heart medicine, or muscle relaxers
  • Alcohol or illegal drugs
  • Lack of movement, such as from wearing a cast or splint, or being on bed rest

How is the cause of weakness diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask when your signs and symptoms started and what makes your weakness worse. Tell your provider about any medical conditions you have. He or she will test your muscle strength, reflexes, and sense of touch. He or she will also check how far you can move or lift your weakened area. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may be used to check for infection or another condition that can cause weakness.
  • A muscle biopsy is a procedure used to take a muscle sample. This may happen if your blood tests do not show the cause of your weakness.
  • X-ray pictures may show what is causing your weakness.

How can I manage weakness?

  • Use assistive devices as directed. These help protect you from injury. Examples include a walker or cane. Have someone install handrails in your home. These will help you get out of a bathtub or stand up from a toilet. Use a shower chair so you can sit while you shower. Sit down on the toilet or another chair to dry off and put on your clothes. Get help going up and down stairs if your legs are weak.
  • Go to physical or occupational therapy if directed. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help strengthen weak muscles. An occupational therapist can show you ways to do your daily activities more easily. For example, light forks and spoons can be easier to use if you have hand weakness. You may also learn ways to organize your household items so you are not moving heavy items.
  • Balance rest with exercise. Exercise can help increase your muscle strength and energy. Do not exercise for long periods at a time. Take breaks often to rest. Too much exercise can cause muscle strain or make you more tired. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise is right for you.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Too much or too little food may cause weakness or tiredness. Ask your healthcare provider what a healthy amount of food is for you. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish, nuts, and cooked beans.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can make your symptoms worse, and can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not use caffeine, alcohol, or illegal drugs. These may cause muscle twitching, which could lead to worsened weakness.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

  • azathioprine

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • You lose feeling in your weakened body area.
  • You have electric shock-like feelings down your arms and legs when you flex or move your neck.
  • You have sudden or increased trouble speaking, swallowing, or breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain in your back, arms, or legs that worsens.
  • You have sudden or worsened muscle weakness or loss of movement.
  • You are not able to control when you urinate or have a bowel movement.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You feel depressed or anxious.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.