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Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy:
Review Article

Sarcopenia ‐ Mechanisms and Treatments

Jones, Terry E. PhD; Stephenson, Katherine W DPT; King, Julia G. DPT; Knight, Kylie R. DPT; Marshall, Tara L. DPT; Scott, Wayne B. PhD, MPT

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Abstract

Background:: Sarcopenia is a consequence of aging. This atrophic event is responsible for decrease in strength and associated functional deficits seen in the aging adult.

Purpose:: This paper reviews: (1) the mechanisms contributing to sarcopenia, (2) the impact of age‐related changes in muscle composition on 3 processes integral to muscle function, (3) the efficacy of pharmaceuticals and over‐the‐counter nutritional supplements in the management of sarcopenia, (4) experimental use of pharmaceutical regulation of myostatin to increase muscle mass and strength in animal models, and (5) efficacy of resistance training as a means of maintaining or recovering muscle mass and strength.

Methods:: PubMed was searched for relevant research articles using the following descriptors: sarcopenia, aging, muscle mass, muscle performance, muscle strength, myostatin, testosterone, growth hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone, hormone replacement, nutrition, resistance training, and endurance training.

Results:: Sarcopenia is mediated by multiple mechanisms, including alpha‐motor neuron death, altered hormone concentrations, increased inflammation, and altered nutritional status. Age‐related changes within muscle likely affect processes integral to muscle function. These changes negatively influence muscle performance directly or by contributing to sarcopenia. Pharmaceutical or supplement interventions to treat sarcopenia have not proved encouraging to date, either lacking or providing limited efficacy, along with the potential for negative health consequences. In contrast, resistance training has proven safe and highly effective for increasing muscle mass and strength in aging adults.

Conclusion:: Sarcopenia is a multifactorial consequence of aging that will affect many adults. Resistance training is the most effective and safe intervention to attenuate or recover some of the loss of muscle mass and strength that accompanies aging.

Copyright © 2009 the Section on Geriatrics of the American Physical Therapy Association

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