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Causes of Leg Muscle Weakness in Elderly

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One of the most frequent complaints of the elderly is leg muscle weakness. Leg muscle weakness is a decrease or loss of strength in the muscles of either or both legs.

Surprisingly, muscle mass starts declining after age 30. There is a decrease between 3–8% of muscle mass every 10 years, with numbers increasing after age 60.  

The involuntary loss of muscle mass that comes with age affects strength and function and decreases life expectancy and quality of life. Leg muscle weakness can also contribute to falls, fractures, and loss of independence.

The causes of leg muscle weakness in the elderly include:

  •  The natural aging process
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Inactivity or lack of exercise
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Other health conditions. 

Participating in physical therapy and rehabilitation services can help prevent lower extremity weakness in the elderly. 

Understanding the different causes of leg muscle weakness is essential in determining the correct cause of action or lifestyle change. 

Symptoms of Leg Muscle Weakness

The skeletal muscles and other smaller muscles in your legs contract to allow movement of the legs, rotate joints and provide stability. When strength diminishes, it affects your ability to walk and stand, making you more vulnerable to falls and injuries. 

Weakness is not easily detected if it’s age-related and occurs over time. Early signs of muscle weakness may include:

  • Difficulty climbing stairs which indicates a loss of stamina
  • Struggling to get up from a seated position
  • Legs feel like jelly

Causes of Leg Muscle Weakness

Muscle weakness can occur because of reduced nerve cells that signal the muscles to contract, from a lower concentration of some hormones, lack of enough protein, or decreased ability to turn protein into energy. There are other reasons causing leg muscle weakness in the elderly, some more serious and others easily remedied.

An elderly person sits on a couch, one ankle crossed over their leg. they are massaging their ankle. a cane is beside them.

Lack of Physical Activity

Prolonged sitting or standing and inadequate physical activity can lead to leg muscle weakness. Always follow your health care professional’s advice when attempting or starting an exercise regime. 

It’s important for the elderly, if possible, to fit some athletic activity into their day, even if it’s only a few minutes. They can also try using walking sticks or mobility aids to facilitate movement. Trained physiotherapists can prescribe exercises that are both safe and effective to do. 

Nutritional Deficiencies

The symptoms or signs of vitamin D deficiency are not as obvious and develop over many years. A study showed the link between vitamin D deficiency, muscle weakness, and impaired muscle performance. 


The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back and down each leg. When the nerve gets pinched, you may feel pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs. 

Mild sciatica goes away with rest and stretching to alleviate the pressure. If symptoms and pain continue, see your doctor. 

Slipped Disk

A slipped disk can occur from injury or age-related spinal degeneration. A slipped disk is when the gelatinous contents from a ruptured or dislodged disk protrude through a tear. 

Together with pain, you can also experience tingling and burning. If the disk puts pressure on spinal nerves, you can experience numbness and muscle weakness down the leg. 

Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s affect balance and weakness in the legs and usually are the first signs. Physical fitness and lifestyle changes are often required to prevent further muscle loss. 

Periphery Artery Disease (PAD)

In PAD, muscle weakness often occurs because of poor circulation in the legs and reduced blood flow. Symptoms may include leg weakness, numbness, pain, tingling, or cramps. 


Age and diabetes are associated with muscle changes and functional decline. A study in older adults proves diabetes accelerates the progression of muscle weakness leading to frailty. 

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease causes narrowing of arteries and blocked arteries that may lead to stroke or heart attack. Symptoms of both can include sudden numbness and weakness in arms and legs or only on one side of the body.  

Support When You Need It

Muscle weakness is prevalent among the elderly and is strongly associated with age and frailty. Leg muscle weakness can also be due to other causes, so knowing about any pre-existing health conditions allows for proper measures to improve strength.

At Butler Street Senior Living, we offer every lifestyle from personal care to memory care with highly trained and professional staff to give you the comfort and support needed. Learn more about our community by contacting us today. 

Written by Butler Street Senior Living

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