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What is Muscle Fatigue?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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Muscle fatigue occurs when the muscles cannot exert normal force, or when more effort than normal is required to achieve a desired level of force. There are a number of causes for fatigued muscles, ranging from exercise-induced fatigue to genetic conditions which lead to muscle weakness. Doctors and researchers have conducted a number of studies to learn how and why muscles get tired or fail to function normally, as muscle fatigue is recognized as a physical issue which can be very dangerous for patients.

In the case of exercise-induced fatigue, muscle fatigue is believed to occur when the body temporarily exhausts its supply of energy. Some studies have also implicated disruptions in the flow of calcium through the muscles. Exercise-induced fatigue is usually not treated as a serious medical problem, because it will resolve after rest, and people can train their bodies to get more endurance so that they will not fatigue as quickly. Muscle fatigue is also directly related to the type of exercise someone engages in, and athletes often vary their routines and the intensity of their workouts for this very reason.

When physical exertion is not the obvious cause of this condition, or when minimal exertion results in severe fatigue, it can become a cause for concern. Weakening muscles are an issue not only because they contribute to a decline in quality of life, but because muscle weakness can eventually lead to heart problems and breathing problems, and some chronic conditions like Lou Gehrig's Disease, also known as ALS, actually cause death via muscle weakness, as the patient becomes slowly paralyzed and stops breathing.

Processes in several areas of the body can contribute to muscle fatigue, including issues with muscles and nerve cells at the site of an area of fatigue, along with problems with the central and peripheral nervous system. When a patient presents with chronic muscle fatigue, a doctor may use a number of tests, including stress tests, to uncover the cause of the muscle fatigue and to learn more about it. The doctor may also look for related symptoms like joint pain, tremors, and so forth.

A number of genetic and acquired conditions can lead to muscle fatigue. The treatments for these conditions vary, depending on the patient and the disease. These treatments can vary from the use of medications to manage or eliminate the condition causing the muscle weakness, to physical therapy which is designed to strengthen and condition the patient's muscles so that he or she will be more functional.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon135343 — On Dec 18, 2010

I'm over 60 and have dealt with cerebral palsy for a lifetime. For the past four years I've used a wheel walker. My arm, shoulder, and back muscles are fatigued as a result. OTC meds help take the edge off as does exercise. The weekend is for rest but come Monday!

By ProudMom2 — On Jun 14, 2010


I’m not sure if chronic muscle fatigue is similar to over working and causing your muscles to fail. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in October of 2007. I suffer from loss of muscle strength, loss of endurance and severe leg pains. I grew up athletic, loved to play hard with the boys and was a fast pitch softball pitcher from the ages of 8 through 16. Chronic muscle fatigue is so hard to live with. I can’t even run or play tag with my children. I didn’t know athletes purposely exhaust their muscles to gain endurance until I read this article. Each athlete has the right to put their health at risk for success, but this doesn’t seem healthy at all. When your muscle fails from physical exhaustion, calcium absorption stops; how can that be good for the long term health of those muscles?

By luna49 — On Apr 01, 2010

I know that some exercise routines advocate exercising to the point of failure - I'd assume this inability of the muscles to complete any more work is the same as muscle fatigue. There seems to be some debate about whether or not this is a good idea.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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