It is not surprising to see seniors experience leg muscle weakness on either one or both legs. As we age, we lose muscle mass that helps carry our body weight.
Thus, a lot of pressure is inevitably put on the knees and legs.
However, some medical conditions may cause leg weakness among older adults.
It is important to understand how the aging process affects leg strength to minimize any pain and inconvenience it causes.
In this article, we’ll learn everything we need to know about weak legs in elderly people.
What Does Sudden Leg Weakness Indicate?
If you suddenly experience leg weakness, you may suffer from a serious medical condition. “Sudden” would mean a noticeable change in leg strength in hours, days, or weeks.
- For many seniors, the sudden weak feeling in the legs is also matched with a tingling and burning sensation.
- If this is the case, a slipped disc in your spinal column could be the culprit. This pain will worsen as you stand or sit.
Pinched nerves can also cause sudden weakness in the legs. You will also feel extreme pain from your lower back down to the hips and legs.
Since a senior’s back will not be as strong as the back of younger people, spinal manipulation by a chiropractor at this point will do wonders!
There are a lot of serious indications of sudden leg weakness. This could be as bad as spinal tumors, ALS, stroke, and many others!
But don’t jump to conclusions!
Your leg weakness might just be benign enough for home care assistance.
But it can also be serious that it needs immediate treatment. Regardless of the level of pain and symptoms felt, see a doctor first!
What Are the Symptoms of Muscle Weakness in Legs?
When you want to be treated for leg weakness, you have to be able to describe the symptoms of the pain.
Have you experienced any of the following on your legs?
- Burning and tingling feeling
- Muscle spasms
- Paralysis; inability to move legs
- “Pins-and-needles” or prickling sensation
- Redness, warmth, or swelling
- Back pain that runs to the legs
If you have, then understandably, you will experience functional impairment. Standing and walking will be difficult. All the more, will you not be able to climb stairs!
What Causes Weak Legs in the Elderly?
It is difficult to watch an aging loved one suffer from leg weakness. So we must reach a diagnosis and determine treatment right away.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is essential in keeping muscle strength. When your body no longer gets enough of it, you will experience muscle weakness, including in the legs.
Older people are likely to develop Vitamin D deficiency due to various things, including:
- Decreased dietary intake,
- Diminished sunlight exposure,
- Reduced skin thickness,
- Impaired intestinal absorption,
- And impaired hydroxylation in the liver and kidneys
This is a rare autoimmune disorder where your immune system attacks your nerves.
This disorder can lead to weakness and pain that usually begins in the feet and legs and will affect your ability to walk.
If no remedy is taken, the disease can paralyze your whole body!
This is a degenerative condition common to aging adults who are not as physically active anymore.
Lack of movement in the leg muscles decreases muscle mass by 3-5%.
This physical inactivity can risk falls and fractures among older adults because of the difficulty in keeping one’s balance and supporting one’s weight.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
PAD restricts blood flow causing poor circulation in your legs.
If you suffer from PAD, you will experience leg weakness, numbness, pain, cramps, and color changes. Your legs might also feel colder than the rest of your body.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
DVT is a blood clot within the lower legs also caused by poor blood circulation.
Apart from leg muscle weakness, you will develop swelling and cramping. The skin on your legs will turn pale, red, or blue and will have a burning feeling.
When large sciatic nerves are pinched, this will cause an inflammation that leads to loss of muscle strength.
This is a very common ailment for aging adults that can easily be remedied with anti-inflammatory medications, rest, and stretching exercises.
When the discs between the vertebrae in our spinal column shift or lose their cushion as a result of aging, pressure on the spinal nerves will cause leg pain and weakness.
Depending on the gravity of the slipped disc, physical therapy or corrective surgery may be required.
Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease
Leg weakness, difficulty in keeping one’s balance, and worse, the inability to walk are early symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Older adults often take prescription medications for dopamine replacement to improve nerve functions.
The inflammation resulting from a stroke leaves one side of the body physically impaired.
Stroke survivors often lose sensation and have difficulty controlling the movements of their legs. Since leg usage is limited, it will also cause a general weakness.
Diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy that damages nerves in the legs, making you lose feeling over them.
High blood sugar is the culprit of this bad blood circulation in your lower extremities. This can also cause pain, cramping, or swelling.
Can the Elderly Regain Leg Strength?
We must accept that the aging process causes muscle mass loss.
It is also inevitable that if we suffer from chronic diseases like stroke, diabetes, and inflammation diseases like arthritis, leg weakness will stay with us as we age.
However, no matter the cause or gravity of leg muscle weakness you are experiencing today, it is possible to slow down muscle loss and other degenerative effects on the body.
To keep your leg muscles strong, you must improve your mobility through exercise, have an overall improved healthy lifestyle, and consider taking physical therapy.
What Helps Strengthen Legs in the Elderly?
Here are a few suggestions to keep your legs strong and for overall health:
Even simple exercises like alternately extending the left leg and right leg can help keep your muscles strong.
Other effective exercises for seniors include:
- Alternative knee lifts
- Calf raises
- Side hip raises
- Knee curls
- Knee extensions
Family members can even suggest and accompany elderly loved ones on short walks outdoors! Not only will exercise maintain muscle mass, but it can help you work on your balance too.
Elevating the legs can promote good circulation throughout the body and prevents unwanted swelling.
You can elevate the legs by putting a small pillow behind your knees or feet to relax the legs.
Food intake is as important as exercise when it comes to overall health. No matter the age, we must be careful with what we eat.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially berries and leafy greens like spinach and kale, should be a must in every meal.
Protein-rich food like meat, egg yolks, and oily fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and tuna improve muscle mass.
Other great suggestions for your diet are mushrooms, soy milk, oatmeal, yogurt, cheeses, and white beans.
Vitamin D Supplement
Vitamin deficiency is a common natural cause of weak muscles, so we must compensate by eating vitamin-rich food and taking supplements.
The recommended dosage of vitamin D for the elderly is 1000 IU/day.
This intake will not only alleviate muscle problems but also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The more overweight you are, the higher the risk for osteoarthritis and leg weakness.
Obesity will also lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn, have leg weakness as an effect.
Maintaining the advisable weight for your age can lessen the chances of leg weakness. This can be managed with proper diet and exercise.
If you are living a sedentary lifestyle, you might want to consider reducing your unhealthy habits that may cause chronic diseases that have worse effects than just leg weakness.
If you smoke, try to stop smoking. If you love eating salty or sugary food like chips and candy, ask your doctor for sustainable ways to keep a healthy eating habit.
If you don’t get enough hours of sleep in a day, consciously take short naps.
Not only can improving your habits give you stronger muscles and a healthier body, but it can make life worth living!
Although we expect leg muscle loss as we get older, we also know that we can MINIMIZE it.
Leg weakness can affect your entire well-being and will to live. Don’t let it stop you from enjoying your remaining years of life!
If you are currently experiencing weak muscles in your legs, don’t hesitate to see a doctor. Make sure to follow their orders too!
Health is wealth!