Deconditioning is a Condition That Can be Greatly Helped with Physical Therapy 

“A large number of people are actually deconditioned. So says the Mayo Clinic’s Michael Joyner in an essay in The Journal of Physiology. [Michael Joyner, Standing Up for Exercise: Should Deconditioning Be Medicalized?]

After surgery, illness, pregnancy or extended inactivity for any reason, people might feel faint or fatigued when they try even mild exercise. “These signs and symptoms can be helped with a gentle, guided exercise of “conditioning” program through physical therapy.

What is Deconditioning?  

Deconditioning can be defined as reversible changes in the body brought about by physical inactivity and disuse. Decline in muscle strength is the most important and consistent feature of deconditioning. Muscle strength of itself matters little; what is important is how changes in muscle strength affects the ability to perform daily activities. 

First, being deconditioned describes symptoms that go well beyond just being “out of shape.” For that reason alone, we need a term for those symptoms. People who lead active lives but seldom exercise may be out of shape. However, people who have been housebound or bedbound almost certainly are deconditioned and may not have the trunk strength to even sit up on the edge of a bed without back support.  People who are deconditioned must exercise to be able to gain the core strength to be able to do that.

Symptoms of Deconditioning

Loss of Independence:  As muscle strength decreases with deconditioning, activities relying on that muscle require a greater proportion of the maximum strength of the muscle. Eventually any further decline in muscle strength will make the activity impossible. If that activity is essential to an independent existence, a small decline in muscle function, such as following a brief period of inactivity due to acute illness, may be sufficient to cause dependence.


Increased Likelihood to Fall: Muscle weakness, especially in the legs, is one of the most important risk factors. Older people with weak muscles are more likely to fall than are those who maintain their muscle strength, as well as their flexibility and endurance. This is because appropriate patterns for muscle contraction is in the legs; especially while walking, and are needed to maintain balance. For example, when you are taking a step you need the muscles that flex your ankle joint to fire, in order to prevent tripping over your own feet. Research shows that weakness to that muscle has been associated with falls in the elderly. 


More Susceptible to Fractures:When you exercise, you don’t just build muscle and endurance. You also build and maintain the amount and thickness of your bones. Inactive older adults can develop a condition called osteoporosis, which is characterized by increased bone fragility. As a result bones break easily. Even a sneeze or a sudden movement may be enough to break a bone in someone with osteoporosis.

Loss of Energy: The heart is a muscle. Like other muscles, it gets weaker with inactivity. A weaker heart pumps a smaller amount of blood with each beat, requiring more beats to do the same work. Sedentary older adults therefore tend to have higher heart rates and lower oxygen consumption than active older adults. Since the body needs oxygen to transform nutrients into energy, with lower oxygenation comes lower energy. Along with higher heart rates comes fatigue. It’s a lot of extra work for your heart!

Importance of Physical Therapy: Muscle mass and strength decreases with age, and the trend is even more pronounced in the elderly who are deconditioned. Numerous studies have shown that physical therapy and exercise in older adults increases mobility, enhances performance of activities of daily living, improves walking, decreases falls, and increases bone mineral density to decrease the risk of fracture.

Call us today to learn more how physical therapy can help.

Great Neck & In-Home Physical Therapy (516) 829-0030

Farmingdale (516) 420-2900



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