How to Treat Sarcopenia, According to Physical Therapists

Learn about the causes and symptoms of sarcopenia and how to treat it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: May 7, 2024

How to Treat Sarcopenia, According to Physical Therapists

Learn about the causes and symptoms of sarcopenia and how to treat it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: May 7, 2024

How to Treat Sarcopenia, According to Physical Therapists

Learn about the causes and symptoms of sarcopenia and how to treat it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: May 7, 2024

How to Treat Sarcopenia, According to Physical Therapists

Learn about the causes and symptoms of sarcopenia and how to treat it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: May 7, 2024
Table of Contents

From childhood to early adulthood, your muscles get bigger and stronger. But for all people over the age of 30, muscle mass steadily declines, especially with inactivity. This process, called sarcopenia, can eventually result in difficulty performing day-to-day activities, including walking, going up stairs, or lifting. 

While sarcopenia is a normal and expected part of aging, there are steps you can take to help manage its progression and its effects on your everyday life, particularly with exercises that strengthen your muscles. 

Read on to learn more about what causes sarcopenia, along with how to help manage it — especially with exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists. 

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Kristin Vinci, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Vinci is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in orthopedics, persistent pain, and mindfulness based stress reduction.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

What Is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia refers to age-related decline in muscle and strength. On average, adults lose about three to eight percent of their muscle mass per decade after age 30 and the speed of loss increases significantly after 60, according to research. “For some people, this loss of muscle mass and strength can interfere with normal activities,” says Kristin Vinci, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. 

With this loss of muscle strength, you may not feel as stable, and you may have a hard time moving around and going about your routines. Sarcopenia can also increase the risk of falls and injuries. 

To help manage sarcopenia, Dr. Vinci recommends adding targeted strengthening exercises (like the ones below) to your daily routine. “As you age, you have to focus on building strength a little more intentionally than you may have done when you were younger,” she says. 

Causes of Sarcopenia

Loss of muscle strength is a typical part of aging, but it’s most common among people who are physically inactive. Experts have pinpointed certain physiological changes that may contribute to a decrease in muscle mass, such as: 

  • Lower levels of hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. (Women can lose up to 10% of their muscle mass during perimenopause, the phase that precedes menopause.)

  • Decrease in protein intake and the body’s ability to convert protein into energy.

  • Reduction in nerve cells that send messages from the brain to muscles to start moving. 

While sarcopenia can interfere with your ability to perform daily activities, Dr. Vinci emphasizes that certain lifestyle tweaks — such as exercise and increasing your protein intake — can help prevent it from impacting your life. 

Symptoms of Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia affects people differently. But some of the most common symptoms of sarcopenia include: 

  • Muscle weakness

  • Visible decrease of muscle mass

  • Fatigue and tiredness

  • Loss of stamina 

  • Difficulty performing day-to-day activities

  • Falls and injuries

While changes in your muscles are common with aging, Dr. Vinci says these symptoms are most likely to impact your life if you don’t prioritize strengthening exercises. 

Treatment Options for Sarcopenia

Physical changes like sarcopenia can be alarming and uncomfortable, but fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to manage sarcopenia and its impact on your ability to do the things you care about. The following tips from our Hinge Health physical therapists and medical doctors can help ease the effects of sarcopenia:

  • Exercise. All types of exercise are beneficial as you get older, but resistance, or strength training with weights, is essential. “Strengthening exercises help increase the size and number of your muscle cells and help promote hormonal activity necessary for muscle growth,” says Dr. Vinci. 

  • Nutrition. A balanced, nutrient-dense diet can also help prevent muscle loss. Incorporate plenty of lean protein, a key component in building muscle. Consuming fruits and vegetables, and minimizing sugar-filled or processed foods, can also help you manage conditions that can make it hard to exercise. “A dietitian or primary care provider can help you navigate your diet and potentially add supplements as you get older,” says Dr. Vinci. 

While researchers are currently exploring the use of medication to treat sarcopenia, none are FDA approved at this point. Lifestyle factors such as exercise and diet are the gold standards for preventing and treating sarcopenia.

PT Exercises for Sarcopenia

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Sit To Stand
  • Bridge
  • Calf Raise
  • Banded Bicep Curls
  • Shoulder Rows

Resistance training that challenges your muscles, such as exercises with bands and weights, can be especially useful in managing sarcopenia. “Working around the house or doing cardio can help build muscle, but, as you get older, you need to increase the demand on your muscles to see results,” says Dr. Vinci. The above exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: It’s Never Too Late to Start

Even if you already have symptoms of sarcopenia, it’s never too late to start building muscle strength. “The key is to start gradually,” says Dr. Vinci. If you’re new to exercise, try doing a few sit-to-stands every time you get up from your chair, then increase the frequency over time (or add some weights for a challenge). And remember: You don’t have to go to the gym to build muscle. Dr. Vinci says you can hold a bag of rice or a jug of water while exercising at home and get the same benefits. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Volpi, E., Nazemi, R., & Fujita, S. (2004). Muscle tissue changes with aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 7(4), 405–410. doi:10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2

  2. Ardeljan, A. D., & Hurezeanu, R. (2020). Sarcopenia. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560813/ 

  3. Lo, J. H., U, K. P., Yiu, T., Ong, M. T., & Lee, W. Y. (2020). Sarcopenia: Current treatments and new regenerative therapeutic approaches. Journal of Orthopaedic Translation, 23, 38–52. doi:10.1016/j.jot.2020.04.002

  4. Shen, Y., Shi, Q., Nong, K., Li, S., Yue, J., Huang, J., Dong, B., Beauchamp, M., & Hao, Q. (2023). Exercise for sarcopenia in older people: A systematic review and network meta‐analysis. Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, 14(3). doi:10.1002/jcsm.13225

  5. Walston, J. D. (2012). Sarcopenia in Older Adults. Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 24(6), 623–627. doi:10.1097/bor.0b013e328358d59b